Saturday, February 25, 2012

Solar projection scope prototype

Warning: With solar observing, be very careful not to look into the optical train, or you are likely to go blind.  Do not leave the optics unattended.  Watch for children!  Don't let any critters walk into the optical path.  Remember that as you experiment with the device, the optical path may be unpredictable.

I got the following lenses from Surplus Shed:

  • 150mm diameter PMN, 2600mm focal length (stock L3855D, $25)
  • 68.7mm diameter NMN, -800mm focal length (stock L4380, $4)
I cut out holes in the shipping box and mounted the big lens to one side of it.

Next, I cut a hole in a piece of plywood, and mounted the small lens in it, using pieces of an old bike inner tube to hold it in place.  I added two pieces of wood to the bottom of the plywood for a stand.

I had some used hard drive platters.  I used a pair of cheap Harbor Freight helping hands to hold one of the platters as a heliostat mirror (using the alligator clip to hold the platter through a piece of cloth so it wouldn't mar the platter too much). 

I set up the optical train on the driveway.  After some experimenting, I got it working.  Hard drive platter reflects light into the big lens.  About 80 inches further, the small lens stands.  A couple of meters further away (I didn't measure; my calculations suggest 6.3 meters as the correct distance, but it seemed closer to me), in the shade, I have a box with a piece of card stock taped to the side as a projection screen.  

Aiming hard drive platter to reflect the sun was easier than I expected.  (At this point, the safety stuff becomes crucial--make sure the sunlight doesn't get focused in anybody's eyes.  Likewise, make sure no animal walks into the optical train.)  I could see a bright spot reflected from the platter.  I moved the spot onto the big lens.  I could then see an unfocused spot on the ground between the big lens and the small lens.  I centered that spot on the small lens, and put the screen box to catch the image.  I then moved the small lens to focus the image.

Result: Eight inch image of the sun.  Acceptable chromatic aberration along edges.  Moderately fuzzy.  One clear sunspot.  (Today's solar photo online showed a smaller sunspot near the larger one, and I did not see that.)  

It should work for the transit of Venus.  I hope it will get a bit sharper when I find a good way to collimate the setup, maybe with a laser.  Right now the collimation was all eyeballed (on the other hand, this is very long focal length work, since I am only using a small portion of the 150mm lens since the platter doesn't give much illumination, so it's less crucial.)  I also hope things will improve if align the optical train in such a way as to make the sun be closer to being at right angles to the mirror, which will increase the amount of the primary lens illuminated by the mirror.

At some point, I will try with a 3.5" diagonal instead of the platter, and if it makes a significant difference to quality, I may need to buy a mirror.

While one can no doubt be harmed if fairly well focused sunlight within the optical train hits the eye, it is worth noting that if the big lens is correctly pointed at the diverging lens, at no point in the optical train is there an image of the sun smaller than about 40mm, so the amount of heat concentration is not so great.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Shadows and light

I was just looking at Jupiter and Venus, both in the west.  Venus looked slightly gibbous and Jupiter had Io's shadow on it.  It was neat to see that the shadowed part on Venus and Io's shadow both pointed towards the below-horizon sun (after correcting for the upside-down field of view).

I hadn't done much astronomy lately.  I did notice lately that Venus was getting very far in the sky from the sun, and it was gratifying to see this coordinated with the slightly more than half-illuminated face of it.  I suppose it will now be getting closer to it, culminating in the transit this summer.