Book Review: The Nearest Star: The Surprising Science of our Sun, 2nd Edition

The Nearest Star: The Surprising Science of our Sun, 2nd Edition by Leon Goulb and Jay M Pasachoff is a comprehensive look at our sun. Goulb is a Senior Astrophysicist at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and has been studying the sun since the mid-1970s Skylab missions. Pasachoff is the Field Memorial Professor of Astronomy at Williams College. He has been on fifty-eight solar eclipse expeditions He his the author of the the undergraduate text book, The Cosmos: Astronomy in the New Millennium. He has received the Education Prize from the American Astronomical Society and the Jules Janssen Prize from the Societe Astronomique de France. 

The Nearest Star is a comprehensive look at our sun for the layman. The authors keep the math to a minimum and stress why studying our sun is important in learning about stars. Special consideration is given to the outer atmosphere of the sun, since it is the only place we can study a star’s outer atmosphere. Although some book is easy to follow other parts, particularly the parts about the corona and neutrinos, tend to go deeper into science than the average reader may be ready for. 

There is plenty of good information and interesting information about the sun that most people probably haven’t heard before. The sun is so dense that it takes 100,000 years for a light to move from the core of the sun to the surface. Studying the sun presents some challenges. A reflector telescope can receive 50,000 watts per square meter. Even if the mirror absorbs (rather than perfectly reflecting) a few percent of this energy the heat will be enough distort the mirror. One way to solve this problem is the Vacuum Tower Solar Telescope. The entire telescope is a vacuum chamber floating in a bath of mercury to reduce vibrations. The latest satellite efforts to study the sun are also covered in detail along with the different methods of observation from visible light to x-rays. 

The Nearest Star is a very comprehensive look at out sun although parts may be above the non-science minded. There is also a nice tie into the earth and the effect the sun and changes the sun has on our planet. Ice ages, different layers of the atmosphere, and the Van Allen Belts are covered. One of the most frightening aspects of the sun in ancient times, a solar eclipse, now turns out to be the best time to study the sun. 

Reading this book is the most that I have learned about astronomy since college and maybe even more than I learned in six semester hours of astronomy classes. I grew up in the 1970s reading about all new discoveries from the probes we landed to Mars and the Voyagers that are long gone. I have always been science minded and for me to find something that I actually learn from with resorting to mind bending mathematics is a rare thing. The Nearest Star does an excellent job at presenting the latest scientific information in a manner that a non-scientist can understand. 


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