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Hampshire Astronomical Group solar flares.''Picture: Graham Bryant
Hampshire Astronomical Group solar flares.''Picture: Graham Bryant

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THE fiery drama is happening 93 million miles away on the surface of the sun.

Now the extraordinary changes of the star, including giant leaping solar flares and black sun spots, can be seen in vivid detail – in Clanfield.

Astronomers at the Clanfield Observatory have got a new telescope which is able to give unprecedented views of the sun.

And the hi-tech equipment has come at just the right time as the sun is about to enter its most active phase next year.

It follows an 11-year cycle and will hit its solar maximum in 2013, when sun spots, solar flares and massive explosions called solar storms will reach a peak of activity.

The telescope, custom-made in the US, works by filtering out everything but hydrogen particles – the main component of the sun.

It means that even on a bright day the astronomers can look at the sun without blinding themselves.

Graham Bryant, chairman of Hampshire Astronomical Group, said: ‘It’s awesome really.

‘To see that power, it’s absolutely incredible.

‘That is what is keeping us alive, the power generated from the sun.

‘When you look at space, most of it is quite static – the changes happen over a period of many hours, weeks or months.

‘When we look at the sun on a sunny day we can see things change in 20 minutes.’

The telescope has been part-funded by the University of Portsmouth and students have been going up to the observatory to study the sun.

Many solar flares and sun spots, as large as 11 times wider than Earth, have been seen.

Mr Bryant explained: ‘A sun spot is a cooler spot on the sun.

‘The sun is around 6,000C, whereas a sun spot is around 4,000C.

‘Because of the difference in temperature, it appears against the bright surface as black.

‘They are also areas of immense magnetic activity.

‘This is where we see solar flares.

‘As the sun spins, there are magnetic field lines and occasionally they break through the surface.

‘You get material following these magnetic field lines.’

And astronomers aren’t keeping this spectacular view all to themselves.

Mr Bryant added: ‘Because it’s so fantastic to see, we are going to let members of the public look at it.

‘We are having some open weekends when members of the public will be able to see the sun for themselves.’