Traverse City Record-Eagle


Processing solar images

Ed HahnenbergIt’s one thing to photograph the sun and get images. It is quite another thing to process the information the cameras yield to enhance the data. I think most people who have point and shoot digital cameras have changed terrestrial photos with tools such as crop, lighten or darken, etc. The more proficient one becomes with digital cameras nowadays, the more interesting the photos become.

Processing solar images taken with my Imaging Source DMK 41AU02 monochrome camera through my H-alpha Coronado PST telescope is no different, really, except the steps one has to go through are more complicated. Photoshop is the processing software most astrophotographers use, and those who think they know all the tricks of this marvelous software are kidding themselves. I doubt whether those who have developed this software in its several iterations even know what this software is capable of … or so says the author of “Photoshop for Dummies.”

I turn to YouTube for solutions to many questions. One of the best experts in processing solar images is a guy who goes by the name “Helium3Fusion.” He has an excellent tutorial on processing solar images using the same equipment I have. It’s 22 minutes in length, and I am still trying to digest all the information in it. You can view it at

However, I am a shortcut kind of guy when it comes to anything in astrophotography, so I culled some of the more important steps he takes in his tutorial and applied them to an image taken on 12-12-12. It was a particularly active day on the sun. Here’s an avi (movie clip) of 1,000 images taken pre-Photoshop processing, using an align, stack, and sort software called Registax 6.

Not too exciting. There are sunspots (light patches) and plasma trails (dark trails) and several dark spots which are really dust particles on the camera lens.

Now here is the same image processed with Photoshop. Notice the dust particles have been removed, the light patches are clearer, as are the plasma trails. The surface of the sun appears much more turbulent, which in reality it is. Finally, there is color.

This latter photo is far from perfect, but it comes much closer to the H-alpha image of the sun. Click on either image for a better view.

In the weeks to come, I am planning to piggyback a 6” telescope atop my C1400 in order to utilize the three CCD cameras I have. Thus, I will be able to do lunar, planetary, solar, and deep-sky astrophotography without having to change out this or that camera for whatever branch of  imaging I choose. All of this has come at a price, but what is more challenging than funding all of this is learning how to use the software tools that are available to me.

  • Ed Hahnenberg

    Much has been made of the projected 2013 solar “perfect storm” recently, suggesting the devastation could total as much as $2 trillion in damage to cell phones, satellites, and our three power grids which could take years to repair. See That is one of the reasons I am continuing to image the sun in H-Alpha (or Ha). There are a couple of websites that you might check periodically if you are so inclined.

    One is an Australian website which images the sun in Ha and at other wavelengths. See The website archives sun activity, so you can go back to see the appearance of the sun on past days. Just remember that the sun revolves, so 12-12-12 will show a different Ha region than I took, but it is one of the earliest indicators of what the day on the sun in Ha here in the U.S. will look like. It also predicts the likelihood of solar sunspot and flare activity for the next three days, much like a weather forecast. The probability for the next three days of a solar storm is 1%, so that’s good news.

    Another website to check is on which you will see an uncolored, unprocessed image much like my first image, updated every minute. This, too, comes from Australia.

  • GenePH

    Ed, Interesting column. I brought to mind a few things I had been thinking about.
    1) Have you heard about the 2013 solar “perfect storm?”
    2) Do you know of anyone who regularly archives solar activity?
    3) Do you have any new equipment?

    • Ed Hahnenberg

      Gene…If you read the first reply (mine), all of the three questions are answered there.

  • GenePH

    Ed, I thought I was Johnny Carson playing Carnac the Magnificent. I read your below entry, which was the only comment. It seemed to be a series of answers in search of the questions. So it was relatively easy. Carnac the “mystic from the east” actually “divined” unseen answers to unknown questions.

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