SOHO Outreach Spotlight

Previous Outreach Spotlights

This is part of a series of overviews of people and programs that provide outreach experiences to schools or the public at large. We hope our readers will become inspired to try some outreach activities of their own.

Western Colorado Solar Outreach

I am Jim Stryder and I've been involved in aerospace journalism for 20 years, covering the U.S. human spaceflight program and planetary programs. For more than 15 years now, I've been actively involved in numerous NASA outreach programs in Miami, Fla, and now in Grand Junction, Co. I focus primarily on two areas: planetary projects and solar related studies. As a member of the Western Colorado Astronomy Org. (, I actively promote astronomy and space sciences in our community. I help coordinate night viewing and daytime solar viewing at schools, parks and for civic groups. I also provide volunteer support to the Western Colorado Math & Science Center (, also in Grand Junction, Co.
The Science Center is a "hands-on" learning center, with over 160 hands-on learning activities in various areas of science and nature. We have over 12,000 visitors a year and I reach probably another 5,000 through my visits to schools and other sites.
I assist visiting school field-trip groups with "solar" educational outreach. I also disseminate information on all (NASA) solar events, missions and activities. Solar Week, a program sponsored by UC-Berkeley, along with NASA scientist participation, is just one event of many that we feature ( Various schools, including elementary and middle school science classes, participate in this annual event. Recently, during National Astronomy-Day, April 16, telescopes were set-up for the public to learn about the Sun, followed by a nighttime observing campaign on the Moon, Jupiter and Saturn!
I use SOHO imagery in many ways. The MDI imagery is basically used to show the appearance of sunspots on the Sun's surface. Over a period of days or weeks, we gather and show several images to showcase the ever-changing "face" of the Sun, SOHO's EIT imagery is also used to show students other ways scientists observe the Sun. The LASCO images are great in that they allow you to see, up to four "items" in a single image. For starters, a LASCO image shows students the Sun's outer corona. Students see a white circle, and then learn the Sun is behind it, masked from view by the instrument. (Many have nicknamed it the "CD-Disk", for its likeness!) They are informed that the Sun is behind that disk, then learn about the upper atmosphere (corona) activity, motion of stars, and the frequent "Comets" that SOHO discovers all the time! And yes, sometimes even the "dance" of the planets, like the recently observed passing of Mercury.

We directly view the Sun with solar-equipped telescopes, big and small. We have scopes that we project with and some filtered for direct observation. We would love to view the Sun in H-Alpha but do not have that capability right now. Students see, sometimes for the first time ever, the ever-changing process of sunspots, solar flares, and other fascinating solar phenomena. Students also learn about an important aspect of the Sun's "invisible" form of energy, ultraviolet radiation, more commonly known as "UV-rays". Students learn about this energy by handling "UV-detecting" beads. The beads are made with a ultraviolet chemical dye that, when exposed to ultraviolet radiation, "light" up instantly and show their colors. On sunny days, the color is vivid; on cloudy days, they still change color (since the rays pass right through clouds, even if it's snowing)! Students do experiments with different containers to see what "blocks" UV-rays, and even test sunscreen to see if that often advertised sunscreen really "blocks" out harmful UV-rays. The lesson here, is know your "Sun": both the positive effects it has on Earth and the potentially harmful effects, such as sunburns that could lead to skin cancer! These UV beads can be ordered online.

I have been fascinated with the Sun and planets since I was 7, so, personally, I'd have to say that my biggest thrill was seeing Mars Pathfinder and the Sojourner rover up-close-and-personal prior to their launch and landing on Mars in 1997!

For additional information on solar learning activities in the western Colorado area, contact Jim Stryder (E-Mail: rjusa[at], or tel. (970) 254-1626, or (970) 434-1873.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR ACTIVITIES: If you use our SOHO images or movies, provide outreach and programs in the area of solar study, and would like to be considered for our Outreach Spotlight section, write to steele.hill[at] with a brief overview of your efforts. If we think you'd make a good candidate, we will contact you.

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Last modification: July 05, 2005
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