The Sun is a fascinating astronomical object to observe. Extreme care is required if you wish to observe the Sun safely. Never look directly at the Sun with the naked eye or with any optical instrument. You must be familiar with the safe observing methods before attempting to observe the Sun.
The observing method I use is to project the Sun's image using a telescope and then view the projected image. This avoids looking at or anywhere near the Sun and you can, if you wish, draw what you see on your projection screen. On most days you will see sunspots and faculae.
Below is a recent drawing of the Sun with sunspots.
The number of sunspots and sunspot groups changes day by day and month by month in a cycle of approximately 11 years. The duration of a solar cycle can be as short as 7 years or so long as 17 years. By making observations on every possible day, a monthly averaged sunspot number can be calculated. The graph below shows the monthly sunspot numbers since January 1996 using my disk drawings.
The sunspot number was very low in 1996. The Sun was then at sunspot minimum when the previous solar cycle finished and the current solar cycle started. The sunspot number steadily increased until September 1998, it was then almost contstant for 7 months before increasing again in May 1999. Activity reduced again in September and December 1999 before increasing during each of the following 3 months. Activity during the first half of 2000 was fairly constant before becoming execptional high during July. Activity reduced again and it was reasonably stable during the remainder of 2000 and for the early part of 2001. During the latter part of 2001 and the early part of 2002, activity increased once again to give a double peak to this solar cycle. Since then, activity has gradually decreased, although there have been some months with higher activity. During October 2003, there were three large sunspot groups seen, one of these being the largest of the current cycle. Subsequently solar activity steadily reduced towards solar minimum during 2007. In January 2008 the first sunspots of the new solar cycle appeared but there is little evidence of an increase in activity towards the next solar maximum. Since then activity increased towards a maximum in 2013/14.
Further drawings, other measures of solar activity derived from my observations and monthly summaries of sunspot activity and much more can be seen on this site.
I am the solar editor of The Astronomer magazine and my solar observations are also submitted monthly to the solar section of the British Astronomical Association. I have been solar observing for over 20 years and use a modest 80mm refractor with the safe projection method to produce the disk drawings you can see on this web site. To help in analysis of the disk drawings I have written three Windows® software programs, including Helio Viewer and Helio Creator.
Last updated on 01 June 2011. Comments to Peter Meadows