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How the PST Changed My Life - By Ken Fiscus

Posted by Ken Fiscus   12/15/2004 12:00AM

I've been an amateur astronomer since 1980 and have enjoyed observing sunspots whenever possible. I was limited to projecting the sun's bright image onto a clipboard held behind the eyepiece of my telescope. After I became a science teacher, I had the sometimes difficult task of getting teenagers interested in the few astronomical objects that I could show them during the school day. (It's easy to impress with night time viewing.) The short list of day time objects was usually limited to the moon and sunspots unless we were to be blessed by a partial solar eclipse. Those days are gone forever!

I ordered a Coronado PST for my high school soon after hearing of their release and reasonable price. The PST's pre-release hype was significant and justified. I had to wait for 7 months for my order to be filled and then had to wait 7 more weeks for a clear school day here in cloudy Minnesota. On the first perfectly clear day since the PST's arrival, my fellow teacher and I herded our bundled up students outside to see what the PST could do.

I had checked the day's sunspot number before going outside. It was a very low 22. I thought I knew what might lay ahead- my 14 years of teaching experience told me that I might have to try to build excitement in what our students would be seeing. How wrong I was!

After mounting the PST piggyback on my school's LX200 and replacing the PST's supplied eyepiece with a digital eyepiece, the students were glued to the monitor. They couldn't believe their eyes! I had had a very easy time aligning the PST on the sun using its clever Sol Ranger. This unique aid allowed quick location and guiding on the sun with 60 freshmen breathing down my neck. The sun's surface looked like an old tangerine. The sun's granulation was incredible. The spicules went on forever. Limb darkening was obvious to everyone. Sunspots no longer looked small, dark, and passive. They were bright sprawling cancers. Best of all, the two large filaments drew gasps from the crowd of students (and teachers). I had slipped a video tape into the TV/VCR that we use as a monitor for the digital eyepiece. We were able to record everything we saw for review inside our warm classroom. Imagine our surprise when we found that the PST and digital eyepiece had also captured several prominences along the limb of the sun. We hadn't been able to see them while outside due to the glare on the monitor's screen. When I played the videotape inside my darkened classroom, the entire class was riveted again. Now I can look forward to many years of being able to convince my students of the sun's power and complexity.

So is the PST perfect? No-it's not perfect, just close enough for me and my purposes. The supplied 12mm Kellner eyepiece gave a disappointingly small image of the sun. The image the standard setup yielded was about 33-power but it failed to impress anyone. The low magnification just doesn't show small solar details very well.

Combining the PST with my digital eyepiece yielded around 100-power and that doesn't factor in the image's further enlargement on a monitor. I couldn't fit the entire solar disk on the monitor at once but I didn't hear a single complaint.

Is the PST worth the money? Absolutely! The only bad thing is now I want a PST of my own.

Click here for more about the PST. -Ed.