Summer school students treated to an out of this world lesson


GRAFTON— On Thursday, third and fourth grade students taking part in the School-a-pool-ooza at Anna Jarvis Elementary were treated to an out of this world lesson. 

Taylor County Board of Education and Central Appalachian Astronomy Club member John Taylor joined the teachers in providing a fun lesson about the sun. 

Armed with two telescopes and countless years of knowledge, Taylor gave the students an up-close look at the sun: but not without warning. 

“This is not something you want to try at home,” he cautioned. “Looking at the sun without proper filters could cause serious damage to your eyes, including blindless.” 

With an understanding of only exploring the surface of the sun in a safe manner, the children were loaded with curiosity and wasted no time asking questions. 

Taylor was happy to answer the acquiring minds, sharing facts about the sun and a special occurrence that happens on its surface that most are unaware. 

Sunspots are a temporary phenomenon on the sun’s photosphere that appear as spots darker than the surrounding areas. 

These spots are regions of reduced surface temperature caused by concentrations of magnetic field fluctuation.

Sunspots, which in summary are magnetic storms on the sun, typically appear in pairs of opposite magnetic polarity with the number of spots varying depending on the sun’s 11-year solar cycle.

“We have solar minimum days where we have no sunspots at all,” Taylor disclosed. “Right now, we are coming out of the minimum and heading into solar maximum.”

He noted that currently there are six sunspots, or magnetic storms happening on the sun’s surface, and for this lesson they focused on one that was the most prominent.

Then, Taylor gave each student the opportunity to take a look at the sunspot through his telescopes. 

And while the spot being studied was bigger than the Earth, the students were surprised to see that it appeared as just a tiny speck in the scope. 

“In reality this storm is larger than the entire Earth, but because it is 93 million miles away, we see it much smaller,” he shared. 

Taylor also had a special solar telescope on hand that has a sole purpose of exploring the sun’s surface. 

“This solar telescope is used for nothing but the sun,” he revealed. 

According to Taylor, the solar telescope only picks up the red light produced by the hydrogen on the sun, allowing the students to not only see the sunspots but to also get a look at prominences. 

These prominences, a secondary phenomenon brought on by the occurrence of a sunspot, were described by Taylor as fingerlings that, when watched closely, could be seen moving along the outer portion of the sun. 

“We are trying to offer some out of the norm learning experiences to our summer school students, and they have all really been enjoying it,” voiced Anna Jarvis teacher Bethany Knight. “This was an experience that I myself enjoyed. It is not often that you get a chance to safely look at the sun up-close.”

Fellow Anna Jarvis teacher Kristina Peters also commented on how excited the students were to get a lesson in astronomy and extended gratitude to Taylor for sharing his knowledge.

“We are so thankful that Mr. Taylor was able to come out today and offer these rare views of the sun to our students,” she expressed. “They have really enjoyed it, and I’m sure it is something they will remember and talk about for years to come!”

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