The Sunspotter is a folded achromatic refractor made of baltic
birch plywood that projects a 3 ¼ x 3 ¼ image of the sun on a white piece of
paper. It's designed for use with small groups, particularly with
children. There are a number of advantages to using this type of a system
for solar viewing when you are working in a group. The two largest are probably
that you don't have to worry about the filter coming off the telescope, and that
several folks can view at once. It's easy to use,
transport and set up. So easy, that as an educator, I would have no qualms
about giving it to younger students to use on their own, after appropriate
instructions. It can be setup in minutes and used indoor or out. The instructions
are very simple and contain decent lesson plans – mostly suggestions
for questions and projects, further these can easily be adapted for any age
It is supplied with a 12.5 mm plossl, and investigation turned up that
it looks to be one of the ever present inexpensive Chinese plossls available
note, the eyepiece is *not* designed to be swapped out. Focus can be adjusted
by loosing a screw on the side and gently sliding the eyepiece up and down in
its frame. This should not be necessary often, and the manual is quick
to point out this fact adding that the usual reasons for a blurry image have
more to do with the atmospheric conditions than the focus of the telescope. The
focus is preset at the factory.
The manual and included slip cover.
With the included eyepiece, the power provided is around
56x, and the aperture of the scope is about 57mm. It weighs about
7 lbs, and is easily carried by a handle on the top. Which, in a nice touch,
out through the provided
cover. There is a pocket provided for storage of the manual on the
outside of the cover as well. My only complaint is that it's all
to easy for the manual to fall out of it's pocket.
Construction is fairly solid, and it's well put together. While it's not
a show stopper quality wise, there is a certain element of beauty to the baltic
birch construction. There isn't much attention to detail – it's well
made, but not what I would call finely crafted. On the other hand, it will hold
up well and should take a fair amount of abuse – just what you want
in a product that will see a lot of use with children.
Aligning the Sunspotter to the sun was a very simple matter. You simply
line the gnomon ( the stick that extends from the front of the scope) up with
the sun to so gnomons shadow disappears, and then center the pinhole projections
on the side of the objective in the areas provided. It's easier to
do than describe and very intuitive once you have seen the unit. The FOV
solar diameters, so you have to bump it every couple of minutes, but this
becomes second nature after a while (about 2 min for me).
My first impressions are that it's a very good tool for use with groups of people,
it does it's job well, the instructions are easy to follow (and printed on the
sunspotter so they are hard to lose (you can tell this was designed by an educator
after my own heart)), and it's solidly constructed.
The following pic was taken on the floor of my office, and illustrates
that it can be used indoors as well as outside. While I haven't exactly been what
you would call a dedicated solar observer in the past, I have found that I'm
hauling it out on a daily basis. It's so easy to use, there really is no
excuse for not checking in on our closest star. I must admit I'm
really enjoying the opportunity for solar observing.
The sunspotter in use - it can be flipped around in the cradle if one
side is too high.
If you have a digital camera, it's astonishingly easy to
take images of the sun for a daily record. Taking pictures for a week
or longer to compare and contrast would be a great project for kids
to embark on during summer camp or during the school year.
One of the nicest things about the Sunspotter is that you
don't have to look through an eyepiece. When you work with small
children, you can never be quite sure they are actually seeing an image
they look through
a scope. Often they will say that they see it just fine to
avoid having to admit they aren't really seeing a thing. At
night, the moon is an obvious target for young observers, and you
can see if the light
cone is actually hitting their pupil or not. It can be quite
a task to line a young child's eye up to the eyepiece during the
the sunspotter, you don't have to worry about this. If the
child can watch TV, they can see this image. I was even able
to use this with my two year old daughter, AJ. She gasped and
pointed while shouting "Ball!" and
grinned from ear to ear. While I patiently explained (in two-year-old-ese)
that she was really seeing the sun, she gave me that look small children
give when they think you are pulling their leg (for some reason I
tend to get this look far more often than my wife does). She
shortly changed to "moon?" but wasn't quite willing to admit it was
the sun for a while longer. A quick note: Be careful when working
sure to discuss solar safety with them before viewing, and watch
to make sure
they don't look directly at the sun.
I expect to be using the Sunspotter with a couple of my local schools
shortly, and I'd encourage you to do some outreach of your own.
Tom Trusock is the Director of Technology for Bad Axe Public Schools
in Michigan's Thumb, and finds little more satisfying than astronomy outreach.
From Stardate Online: Sunspots - a lesson plan
From Stanford: Multiple plans for activites based on the Sun and Solar
From NASA: Thursdays Classroom: Multiple Solar Activities and Lesson