One of the more “celestial” fundraisers in the area for the past several years has been the Maberly Fair’s Pie in the Sky event.
It’s a rather simple concept, really. First, you go and buy a pie to support the Fair, and then you get your reward — a look at the Sun, courtesy of local astronomers Fred Barrett (also Frontenac News columnist) and Bob Hillier.
(There’s also a farmer’s market for plants, seedlings and produce.)
Once you’ve decided on apple, strawberry or rhubarb, it’s time to see what Sol is up to for the day.
This is actually more difficult than it sounds, because looking at the sun through a regular telescope is simply not a good idea. For that, you need a specialized scope that won’t burn out your retinas.
“This telescope blocks out 99.99 per cent of the light,” said Hillier, who jointly purchased it back it the late ’90s with Barrett. “It’s like a #14 arc welding mask.”
Hillier, who lives in Ottawa, has an observatory adjacent to Barrett’s down the road towards Westport.
“We split the cost of the telescope and share joint custody,” he said.
What you see through the scope is a red disk. Because the Sun is at the end of its 11-year activity cycle, there wasn’t that much going on, ie no Sun spots. However, there were a couple of solar flares that made the trip worthwhile (that and an excellent strawberry pie that actually made it to the end of Canada Day).
“Look close, the Sun’s surface is not smooth, it’s textured,” said Hillier, who admitted to being more of a night-time observer. “This is what observers do when they go to the light side.
“Right now, we’re past the solar max, so there’s not much activity. What we’re looking at now is to see if it’s consistent with what we expect to see.”
“The Sun is a fascinating object,” said Barrett. “Particularly when the face has the black sun spots that are moving around like amoebas.”
“During a solar max period, the solar poles flip and the result is maximum sun spots at the equator.”
“It’s not really predictable (how much sun spot activity there will be) and it’s not really fully understood.”
Barrett said he plans to get back to regular column-writing next month after some family matters led to missing a couple of months.
“There’s a minor meteor shower coming,” he said. “Neptune and Uranus will be visible but they’ll take some specialized equipment.”