Saturday, February 16, 2013

A Magnetic Observatory

My daughter is doing a 6th Grade science fair project on the sun.  As part of her project, we decided to establish a magnetic observatory at home by building a soda-bottle magnetometer (Google it and you'll find a number of pages that describe how to build this little device).  This little device is easy to build and incredibly sensitive (a car driving by in the street causes a significant deflection).  It only took us about 30 minutes to build, and, if you choose to build one yourself, the total cost is between $0 and $7.00, depending on what you have available.  Materials include: a soda bottle, drinking straw, bar magnet, small mirror, index card, thread, and sand (or gravel).  We use a laser pointer to put a spot on a meter rule.  Initially, we centered it at 50 cm and we'll measure all our deflections from that spot.  This little instrument will measure even minor flare events on the sun, and it should give us a great "heads up" if there's a big event!  We'll try to take measurements as we can (mostly in the evening), but it's a great project to enable you to observe the sun, even when it is cloudy.  And if the weather's good, a significant deviation can tell you if there's something going on worth breaking out your solar scope for.

The assembled magnetometer

The completed magnetometer with laser spot
The reflected spot on a meter rule about a meter away from the instrument