SOHO Outreach Spotlight

Previous Outreach Spotlights

This is part of a series of overviews of people and programs that provide outreach experiences to schools or the public at large. We hope our readers will become inspired to try some outreach activities of their own.

Amateur Observer Reaches Out

Want to get some strange looks from people? Tell them to look at the sun! How can something we've been told so many times not to look at be so enjoyable? Well, one peek through a hydrogen alpha solar telescope and you'll be hooked. Towering prominences, Earth sized active regions, colossal filaments of hot gas are all there for you to see and share. In fact, looking is just the first step, telling everyone about what you saw is half the fun. And an inexpensive telescope for viewing the Sun this way can be bought for about $500.
I'm Greg Piepol, an amateur solar astronomer. (I've recently retired from the US Air Force where I was a mechanic on Air Force One.)

I've found observing in my backyard to be unbelievably awesome but, posting images of the sun online and setting up my equipment for others to enjoy is truly rewarding.

It's teaching. It's sharing.

Solar outreach captures the fascination of child and adult alike.

The first time when someone takes a glance at the solar chromosphere I can't tell you the number of times I've heard "Oh my, WOW!" and the occasional "Holy . . ." well you get the idea.

I observe in my back yard at least once a week or more if the weather allows. I'm involved with outreach events at least a dozen times a year. I participate at two high schools, an elementary school, and several of my astronomy club's monthly observing and public viewing sessions. Some outreach opportunities are small with only a handful of school kids.

Others like the Northeast Astronomy Forum (NEAF) in Suffern, NY will have 3,000 people attending over two days. What a blowout! Several solar astronomers and equipment vendors set up each year to teach the public how to "see the sun our way". I'll spend 10 hours a day setting up and viewing at NEAF. I bring two solar scopes mounted side by side to maximize the thrill.

A long drive from Rockville, Maryland and lots of work? You bet. The look on a kid's face: priceless!

Each fall, I have another opportunity to show off the extreme beauty and power of our star. This time it's to more than 500 people from around the Washington DC area. The Northern Virginia Astronomy Club (NOVAC) holds its annual Star Gaze which does a fantastic job of bringing in a variety of viewers from various backgrounds. Grandchildren, professional astronomers, and even a pet from time to time come out early to "see what all the fuss is about" and get a glimpse before the sun sets. The line gets long and so does the chat about how the sun works and what you're looking at. Never a dull moment when old Sol's involved.

Another avenue I use for outreach is my website: Here, I tell of my experiences with solar photography, the equipment I own, and the resources I've found. Again, it's another way to share. takes it all to the next level with photos you can zoom in on and 3D solar images that give an extra dimension to solar observing. Created with 3D rendering software, these dynamic shots are taken from a single solar image I've taken and morphed into a real "hands on" experience. The software I use is the freeware program Callipygian 3D. (For more 3D Sun images from I've created, go here)

I've been asked why I do it.

Why bring all this equipment out or spend so much time getting the image just right?

One look in the eyepiece or on the monitor and you'll see that the star keeping us all alive is constantly churning, changing and shining right before our eyes.

It's big, it's bright, and it's the sun.

So go ahead and look!

TELL US ABOUT YOUR ACTIVITIES: If you use our SOHO images or movies, provide outreach and programs in the area of solar study, and would like to be considered for our Outreach Spotlight section, write to steele.hill[at] with a brief overview of your efforts. If we think you'd make a good candidate, we will contact you.

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Last modification: February 06, 2006
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