Also see video of the sun at www.charliebates.org.
Stephen Ramsden spends a lot of time looking at the sun.
"It's always different — there's different flares, different sunspots," Ramsden said. "The surface just churns and boils like a magnetic soup."
Ramsden, an air traffic controller in Atlanta, is the director of the Charlie Bates Solar Astronomy Project, an educational outreach program sponsored by the National Air Traffic Controllers Association that he hopes gets students involved in science.
On Thursday, he brought his telescopes to Tyner Academy to allow students to look at the sun, using two wavelengths of light to view both sunspots and solar flares. Not every school can afford the telescopes that Ramsden has, and he tries to take them to as many schools as possible throughout the year. On average, the project serves about 60,000 students a year throughout the Southeastern United States.
"I really, really like kids, and I really, really like kids that are underestimated -- when they come up with great questions," Ramsden said. "They all come in and act like 'I'm too cool for this.' But then, one of them looks at this [telescope] and you just see their eyes light up, and they all drop the act."
Looking through the white light telescope, students could see a white orb with pin-sized black dots on the upper right side and lower left side. These dots are sunspots, or cooler areas on the sun's surface, and are about two to three times the size of Jupiter, according to Ramsden.
The other telescope, a hydrogen-alpha telescope, showed a dark orange ball that appeared to have a moving surface and wisps of orange poking off the sides. These wisps were solar flares, which are releases of energy from the sun's surface.
John Cooper, a physics teacher at Tyner, met Ramsden a few years ago at a conference and wanted to give the students the opportunity to view the sun up close.
"I thought it would be cool to see it's not just this thing in the sky," Cooper said. "It's this ball of energy that is moving and has solar flares, but you never get to see one."
Eric Williams, a senior in one of Cooper's classes, said he has an interest in astronomy and physics and was excited to have an opportunity to view the sun. He was particularly happy to hear Ramsden would be handing out special solar glasses that allow students to look directly into the sun without a telescope.
"As a kid, I was always trying to look at the sun," he said. "I just want to see how close I can see, instead of just looking at this bright thing in the sky."
Ramsden said he wanted to be able to engage students in science, to show them they are smart and to give them a hands-on opportunity to experience real science.
"These days, students are just trying to pass a test," he said. "What I've found is they all want to be smart, they all want to accomplish something. An easy way to do that is science."
Rachel Bunn is originally from Ellijay, Ga., and graduated from the University of Georgia with degrees in magazines and history. While at UGA, she wrote for the student magazine UGAzine, served as news editor for the student newspaper, The Red & Black, and spent a semester studying British history at Oxford University in Oxford, England. She has previously worked at The Rockdale Citizen in Conyers, Ga., and The Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the ...