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There are actually many ways to observe the Sun safely if you know what you’re doing. Solar projection, full-aperture white light filters, and herschel wedges allow one to observe the entire spectrum of the Sun integrated into white light. However, the white “continuum” light produced by the Sun’s photosphere (or “surface”) is so blindingly bright that it outshines the light which comes from other parts of the Sun--such as its corona and chromosphere. These can be observed during total solar eclipses, but only their very edges.
It turns out that by observing the Sun in wavelengths of light that are strongly absorbed by the Sun’s photosphere, but which are emitted by the chromosphere, you can get around the blindingly bright glare of the photosphere and observe structures on the chromosphere throughout the solar disk. The brightest part of the chromosphere’s emission is in the deep red “Hydrogen Alpha” wavelength. There are other wavelengths used for solar observing, most notably Calcium-K, however they are dimmer and the eye is less sensitive to them, so they are typically reserved for photographic purposes.
While white-light solar viewing can be done--with care--for fairly cheap, traditionally viewing the Sun in hydrogen-alpha has been a very niche, very expensive hobby. The Coronado P.S.T. (Personal Solar Telescope) changed that, by offering a small but affordable telescope capable of showing some of the most fascinating structures in the solar system. However, it remains quite expensive, and I don’t know that I would recommend it to a beginner without general observing experience. Beginners should consider looking into cheaper white light viewing with their night time telescopes before graduating to the PST.
8/10: Very good, but not quite great
Score Breakdown (out of 5)
Moon & Planets: NA
Rich Field: NA
Ease of use: 5
Read our scoring methodology here.
The Coronado PST is the most affordable H-alpha telescope on the market, and stands out as potentially the only choice for many beginner solar observers. However, if you are able to spend significantly more money: if you want a small, portable solar telescope, perhaps with a larger aperture, look for Coronado's own SolarMax II series telescopes, as well as some of the small solar refractors by Lunt. If you want a more versatile telescope that can be adapted for daytime or nighttime use, consider a small apochromat with a Herschel Wedge and a DayStar Quark eyepiece-end etalon filter. Beware that some of these options may require electricity to heat their etalons to working temperature.
The Coronado P.S.T. is good, but despite being the cheapest instrument in its category, it is still a lot of money for a small telescope with only one target to use it on.
Does the PST sound like the solution to a problem you want to solve? Then absolutely, go get one. It’s a good telescope to bring along to an eclipse expedition (although, unlike a white light scope, you can’t take the filter off at totality) or for daytime outreach. But if you’re not sure if you’re interested in solar observing and want to give it a try, it’s a harder choice to make. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who doesn’t already have a good astronomical telescope and good eyepieces they’re happy with. And I would suggest anyone wanting to get into solar observing start with white light solar observing (which can be really cheap) and “graduate” to hydrogen-alpha viewing. If you have the opportunity to try one out at a star party, that would be a great way to see if it appeals to you, though beware that some days the Sun is a bit of a dud and others it is bursting with detail.
If you have lots of money you’re willing to spend on solar viewing, consider some of the other solar scopes made by Coronado or Lunt, or the DayStar Quark filter to convert a white-light refractor to h-alpha. However, the PST is a good way to get your feet wet before jumping in.
If you can find one used for much less than the list price, I’d say go for it, no question. That’s what I did. But new? I wasn’t able to justify buying one new, but you might be able to. And if you want to observe the Sun in hydrogen alpha, there is simply no more cost effective instrument to do so.