A few days ago one of the largest sunspots in recent history was detected, and shortly after large solar flares (large build up and release of magnetic energy in the solar atmosphere) were reported, effecting some wireless and satellite services in the America's and Europe. Sunspots are a common occurrence, but very widely in size. The current sunspot is twice the size of planet Earth! Making it visible even to the naked eye (WARNING: never look directly at the sun with naked eye or telescope or binoculars without special protection or filters!). To avoid damaging your eyes there are a few simple (and some complicated) ways to view the sun. One of which is the easy to make pin hole camera.
All you need is two sheets of card stock paper, and a needle or pin. To make the camera simply poke the pin or needle through one of the sheets of paper, then it's time to head outside.
Once you are in the sunlight point the paper with the hole directly at the sun (but don't look at it yourself!), then move the second sheet of paper around until you see the small light dot. Believe it or not, although quite small, this is a projection of the sun! From there you can move the paper farther apart or poke a bigger hole to play with the image. This method is a classic for viewing eclipses. In addition to this there are many more safe and fun ways to view the sun at home or in school including: projecting the image through a set of binoculars or a telescope, or building a filter for your own telescope.
Reports of sunspots have been recorded as far back as China in 28 BCE, and possibly even as early as 467 BCE by the Greek philosopher Anaxagoras . But it was not until the time of Galileo that sunspots were acknowledged, observed and documented. The picture above is one of a series of sunspot drawings Galileo made in 1613.
The best part of all of this? It's just the beginning. The wealth of information out there may seem a bit overwhelming to say the least, but at the same time endlessly informative and entertaining, like this this site on space weather.
Hope the sun is shining where you are!
*Last time in Nature: New Worlds