This was a talk given by Dr Ian Whittaker on Friday 15th June.

He explained all about how our sun works from its centre through to the surface and beyond and its many magnetic fields. He talked about flares, sun spots and coronal mass ejections and in turn how these outbursts of charged particles travel towards earth on the solar wind and hit our magnetic field.

Our magnetic field shields us from most of the damage these charged particles can cause such as knocking out power grids, etc but it is this which gives us the aurora borealis or the Northern/Southern Lights.

This happens by collisions between fast-moving particles (electrons) from space and the oxygen and nitrogen gas in our atmosphere. As they rain into the atmosphere, the electrons impart energy to oxygen and nitrogen molecules, making them excited.

I found this talk interesting and a little lighter than some of the talks we have had so I could understand and enjoy it illustrated by diagrams and short videos. This may have seemed a little tame for the more informed amongst us but it still stimulated quite a few questions.

Dr Whittaker showed great interest in our 18” scope when I spoke to him in the dome and said he always prefers this sort of telescope to the modern ones where everything is hydraulic and can be worked using a computer keyboard and watched on screen. He, like me, prefers the ‘hands on’ sort like our 18″ and its history.