By Bob Berman. Hardback. 304pp. Price: $25.99 (US) £18.99 (UK) Publisher: Little, Brown and Company. ISBN: 9780316091015
Not a month seems to go by at the moment without the Sun featuring in the news. Either because of its dramatic activity, which will peak around 2013 posing a threat to society’s infrastructure such as our electricity networks, or because in the coming decades this activity might significantly wane, also bringing about problems. The Sun’s Heartbeat very nicely captures this, telling the story of humanity’s relationship with our local star in an accessible way.
Berman begins with a discussion of the most obvious characteristic of the Sun, its light, and how the light is created by fusion in the centre of the Sun. In a light-hearted way the reader is then transported back to ancient times to look at the views of early civilisations and how they attempted to come to a scientific understanding of the Sun, leaving the myths behind.
Appropriate attention is paid to sunspots in the book. These dark spots on the solar surface gave the first indication that the Sun is an active and variable star and, once observed through early telescopes, became a source of fascination and focus as heavyweights Galileo and Scheiner battled to correctly interpret these features. The ebb and flow of the sunspot number and the intrigue caused when they disappeared for 70 years in the 17th century is nicely brought up-to-date with a discussion on contemporary sunspot activity and the very long solar minimum that has just been experienced.
The book touches on all aspects of the science, relevance and fascination of the Sun and so will appeal to a wide range of readers. Topics such as the Sun and our health, Earth’s climate, sunlight and the human eye, astrology and even advice on observing the Sun are all covered, culminating in a look to the future and the death of the Sun in the final chapter.
This book is a broad and light-hearted look at the Sun through time which dips into subjects just enough to explore the many facets or our local star and convey just how important and intriguing the Sun really is.
Guest review by Dr Lucie Green
Dr Lucie Green is a solar researcher based at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory, part of University College London’s Department of Space and Climate Physics, and a passionate communicator of astronomy to the public.
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