August 21, 2014

Review: The Sun’s Heartbeat by Bob Berman.

Out from Little-Brown!

Think you know our nearest star? Think again… no other astronomical object influences our often mundane daily lives like our Sun. Think about it; the fuel in our cars, the energy in that Twinkie you had for “breakfast” (admit it) and the very power in the electrons that propel this blog can all be traced back the fusion force coming from our nearest star. As Bob Berman points out in his latest book, The Sun’s Heartbeat, and Other Stories from the Life of the Star that Powers out Planet, all Earthbound energy with the exception of nuclear fission can be traced back to our Sun. Fans of Astronomy magazine (which JUST finally joined the ranks of the digital, winning back at least one more subscriber!) will be familiar with Mr. Berman’s Dave Barry-meets-Carl Sagan style of writing from his monthly column. In The Sun’s Heartbeat, Mr. Berman takes an in-depth look at the history of solar astronomy and drops in copious factoids and little known slices of history and solar physics along the way. For example, did YOU know that iron fusion will only sustain our future Sun for ONE day, or that ye’ ole astronomers used belladonna root to enhance their night vision? Or how ‘bout the fact that sunspots and aurora where so rare during the 17th century that many astronomers considered them myth? Neither did we, and we go looking for such astronomical tidbits for fun.

Mr. Berman is also an accomplished eclipse and aurora chaser and devotes a chapter to each of these, as well as near-sky atmospheric phenomena. OK, we’ve never seen a circum-zenithal arc either, but will now put it on our daily list of things to look out for…

Our Star awakens…(August 2nd, 2011: Photo by Author).

But there is also some practical, if not frightening, info contained in The Sun’s Heartbeat; the first is the role that the Sun plays in the production of Vitamin D, and the discovery that our modern hide-from-the-Sun lifestyle, plus an over-blown fear of skin cancer may have swung us to far in a vitamin deficient direction. The evolutionary adaption that skin production infers by producing Vitamin D utilizing solar UV is more efficient that absorbing it by any other means. The role that vitamin D plays as an anti-cancer agent is just becoming understood, and there are studies that suggest that there may be a link to autism and vitamin D deficiency as well. Its rather telling that the medical sources interviewed by Mr. Berman face staunch opposition from the anti-vax crowd… I guess there’s no money in suing the Sun…

But the most troubling studies are the effect that the Sun plays in the riddle of the Earth’s climate. Yes, as any Tea-Party advocate will tell you, there ARE natural rhythms aka Milankovitch Cycles that govern our climate; the trouble is, the current lull in the solar cycle suggests that we’re should be in a cooling phase, and that anthropogenic climate forcing is now the dominant decider in global trends… could it just be our bad luck that our true impact on global warming is now just becoming apparent?

Do read Mr. Berman’s excellent book for a glimpse of all things solar and sun related. As solar cycle #24 gets into high gear, our civilization is posed with a flotilla of spacecraft to study our Sun as never before. Conversely, there has been talk of the Sun’s 11-year cycle shutting down, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the 17th century Maunder Minimum… our nearest star definitely has more surprises in store!

 

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  1. [...] of West Africa and will feature live commentary from hosts Paul Cox and astronomer and author of The Sun’s Heartbeat Bob [...]

  2. [...] Chile. The broadcast will be hosted by Slooh astronomer Geoff Fox, astronomer and author of The Sun’s Heartbeat Bob Berman, and Slooh engineer Paul [...]

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