OBSERVING THE SUN
Life-giver, and even law-giver in the past, the Sun has a strong influence on the world that anyone can feel on a sunny day.
A Sun god has been a major feature in almost every human culture. Among the Hopi Indians of the arid American Southwest, for instance, the Sun is the "keeper of the ways." Each day it climbs out of its eastern kiva (an underground ceremonial chamber) and up into the sky to keep watch on the world.
Sun-watching in ancient times was inextricably mixed with astrology and divination. In the European Renaissance, however, the first telescopes were invented and studies of the Sun finally started to address its physical reality.
Amateur astronomers were responsible for many of these early studies. For example, an amateur determined that sun-spots occur in cycles, and two amateurs discovered the existence of solar flares and their links to geomagnetic disturbances such as auroras.
During this century, most solar research has become "Big Science," with budgets and sophisticated instruments to match. Ambitious large-scale projects include the SOHO and Yohkoh satellite observatories.
But solar observation remains a rich and enjoyable field for the amateur, thanks in part to the Sun's ever-changing appearance. No other area of astronomy offers so many opportunities to see a celestial object change. Some amateurs also find that solar viewing fits more easily into then-daily lives than does nighttime astronomy, with its late hours and long trips to find dark skies.