Telescopes from the Ground Up
Image of the Sun's corona using the coronagraph aboard SOHO space telescope.

Solar Telescopes

Sun shades

In 1930, the French astronomer Bernard Lyot came up with another device that helped scientists study both the Sun and objects nearby. The coronagraph uses a disk to block much of the light from the Sun, revealing features that would otherwise be erased by the bright glare. Close observations of the Sun’s corona, certain comets, and other details and objects are made possible by the coronagraph. Coronagraphs also allow scientists to study features like solar flares and the Sun’s magnetic field.

Today, more technologically advanced versions of the spectroheliograph and coronagraph are used to study the Sun. The McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope on Kitt Peak in Arizona is the world’s largest solar telescope. The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory project is a solar telescope in space that studies the Sun’s interior and corona, and solar wind, in ultraviolet and X-rays as well as visible light. Astronomers also use a technique called helioseismology, a kind of spectroscopy that studies sound waves in the Sun, to examine the Sun down to its core.

Although the Sun has been studied since the days of the earliest astronomers, it still has much more to tell. Scientists continue to search for the secrets the Sun hides right before our eyes.

In a nutshell...

Solar telescopes are ordinary reflecting telescopes that use special instruments to observe the Sun.

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