It may be “the story of one tiny star among the trillions that have come and gone during the past 15 billion years,” but it sure makes for soul-stirring, mind-blowing reading.
Golub (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) and Pasachoff (Astronomy/Williams Coll.) have put together a superb profile of the sun. They don’t assume any special knowledge on the part of their readers, so they explain their subject starting with broad overviews and theories—such as the birth of the sun, its composition, and the various tools used to understand its history and makeup (including spectroscopy, high-resolution imaging, and helioseismology). Although the progression into more complex material is gradual, the authors don’t cut readers much slack: There may be no mathematical equations to wrestle with, but there is much discussion of parallax and yottawatt, Maunder minimums and limb darkenings, faculae, auroral electrojets, and the Transit of Venus. These are conducted in concise language, however, and they glide smoothly between fundamental questions (Just how come that great roiling sea of gas keeps on burning? Are stars solid?) and more arcane but immediately relevant topics (such as the nature and consequences of solar wind on Earth’s magnetic field). Discussions of prominences, flares, and spicules can take your breath away, as will the considerations of zodiacal light and sunspots and total eclipses (although there is no mention of everyone’s favorite, the green flash). A final overview of the sun’s role in climate, and an outline of how humans have, in their ineptitude and to their disadvantage, overwhelmed certain solar influences wrap the proceedings up nicely.
The sun is simply peerless from any angle and this enlightening biography shows it in all its glory—as bright as daylight. (Color and b&w illustrations)