Disk Animations

Here is my personal selection of Solar Astronomy books.

  • 'Nature's Third Cycle' by Arnab Rai Choudhuri. Oxford University Press, 2014. ISBN 978-0-19-967475-6. Pp xii + 281.

    Initially I was curious about exactly what the third cycle in title of this book referred to. It soon became clear that this is the well known 11 year solar cycle, with the first and second cycles referring to the Earth’s daily rotation and yearly orbital cycles. Perhaps less well know is that the solar cycle is on average 22 years in duration when the magnetic properties of sunspots is taken into account.  It is these magnetic properties that are the main topic of this interesting and informative book.

    This book by Arnab Rai Choudhuri, a Professor of Physics at the Indian Institute of Science, has been written for a general audience and in a non-mathematical style that anyone with GCSE level physics will be able to easily understand. The more complicated physics and maths are given in the appendixes. The book begins by giving the background and history to the topic of sunspots and in particular their magnetic characteristics before describing the properties of the fourth state of matter, plasma. This is where the reader is gently introduced to the solar dynamo theory which is subsequently used to explain the origin of the solar cycle as indicated by sunspots. The book then develops the flux transport dynamo theory, the currently favoured theoretical model of the solar cycle. This model has been used, for example, to give a theoretical butterfly diagram which is well known to solar observers. The final part of the book concentrates on how particles from the Sun can be transported to the Earth and their influence on us here on Earth.

    What I particularly like with this book is that the author has included stories about the various scientist and astronomer who have contributed to the understanding of the solar cycle, including his own. This gives a much more personal and interesting prospective to the book especially as it helps to explain the development of the topic as well as giving an insight to the scientific process with its highs and lows. Having this from the prospective of a scientist in India has added to this personal aspect of this book.

    In the preface, the author asks whether he has succeeded in writing on non-technical book to explain the physics behind the solar cycle – I certainly think he has. I recommend this book to anyone who wishes to gain an insight into solar physics. There may be parts of the book that need some thought and understanding but this is worth the effort. This is the best book I’ve read on this topic.

    (Review by Peter Meadows reproduced from The British Astronomical Journal Vol 125, No 2, April 2015).

  • 'How to Observe the Sun Safely' by Lee Macdonald. Springer-Verlag, 2012. ISBN 978-1-4614-3824-3. Pp xxv + 214.

    An updated and extended of version of the first edition published in 2003 (see below). New chapters on white light and hydrogen alpha imaging the Sun with digital cameras and webcams have been included to bring the topic up to date.
  • 'The Sun Kings: The Unexpected Tragedy of Richard Carrington and the Tale of How Modern Astronomy Began' by Stuart Clark. Prinston University Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-691-14126-8. Pp xii + 211.

    A very readable and enjoyable account of the life and time of Richard Carrington who was the first to record a solar flare.
  • 'How to Observe the Sun Safely' by Lee Macdonald. Springer-Verlag, 2003. ISBN 1-85233-527-0. Pp ix + 176, £19.50 (paperback).

    Here is a book that is ideally suited to someone who has recently begun solar observing or who is contemplating observing our nearest star. Lee Macdonald, a BAA solar section member, gives his expertise on solar observing in this easy to read book. After giving a brief description of the Sun, he describes what equipment can be used to observe the Sun in white light and how to use it in a safe manner. He then continues by describing what can be seen, how to make sunspot drawings and determine the position of sunspot groups. Now that an observer knows how to record solar activity, the next chapter shows how various measures of solar activity, such as the number of active areas and sunspot number, can be made in a form suitable for submission to astronomical organisations such as the BAA. Observing other white light features are also described - faculae, naked-eye sunspots and if you are extremely lucky, white-light flares. The remainder of the book is devoted to hydrogen-alpha observing and photography using film and digital techniques. The appendices give a list of equipment suppliers, solar observing organisations and further reading.

    The book is particularly error free, although I would have liked to have seen further clarification in a few parts. These include a clear statement on how to count the number of spots if there are many umbrae in the same penumbra and a clearer description of the orientation of the Sun for different telescope configurations (including the orientation for southern hemisphere observers). Also more details of the McIntosh sunspot group classification could have been given, as this is a little bit more involved than described in the book.

    As expected for a book from Patrick Moore's Practical Astronomy series, there is sufficient information to enable readers to make their own useful solar observations. I think that the book successfully describes how to observe the Sun safely and how to make the most of any observation. Let's hope that more observers will be encouraged, after reading this book, to observe the Sun and to submit their own observations to the BAA and other such organisations.

    (Review by Peter Meadows reproduced from The British Astronomical Journal Vol 113, No 3, June 2003).

  • 'The Enigma of Sunspots' by Judit Brody. Floris Books, October 2002. ISBN 0-86315-370-4. Pp 192, £12.99 (paperback).

    The subtitle for this book is 'A story of discovery and scientific revolution' but I think a better subtitle that would summarise the book is 'Solar observers throughout the ages and how our understanding of the Sun has changed through their observations'. After an introductory chapter there are a couple of chapters on pre-telescopic sightings of sunspots and the difficulties these posed for the idea of an unchanging Sun. Early telescopic observations by Johann Fabricius and Christoph Scheiner are then described together with the correspondence the latter had with Galileo. Scheiner's book Rosa Ursina published in 1630 contains many properties about the Sun that we are familiar with today: sunspots are on the surface of the Sun, the Sun rotates with a period of 27 days, the 7° orientation of Sun's rotation axis, sunspots occupy definite zones on the solar surface and the presence of faculae. He also organised a network of observers, some a far away as the West Indies, to send him observations! There is a short chapter on the English observer Thomas Harriot who first started solar observing in December 1610. The book continues with observers Pierre Gassendi, Johannes Hevelius and Athanasius Kircher. Kircher thought the Sun to be a hot place (one of his drawings shows flames coming from the solar surface) and that it has an influence on the Earth (but through astrology). Following the end of the Maunder sunspot minimum in about 1715 activity increased again, as did the occurrence of aurora. In 1716 Edmund Halley saw a prominent aurora and tried to develop a magnetic theory of auroras. The next breakthrough in the understanding of sunspots came, the book suggests, in 1769 with the first observation of the Wilson effect. We then come to a chapter on the ideas of the Sun by Sir William Herschel which includes a description of an experiment by the American Joseph Henry who in 1845 used a thermocouple to determine that sunspots were cooler than the surrounding photosphere. Chapter 12 describes the realisation that solar activity follows a cycle, as discovered by Heinrich Schwabe in the middle of the 19th century, and the possibility of a connection between sunspot cycles and magnetic disturbances here on Earth. Rudolf Wolf at about the same time managed to obtain information about sunspots for about 22500 days and devise his still used relative sunspot number. The next two chapters describe observations of white light flares, differential rotation, the latitude distribution of sunspots throughout a solar cycle (the Butterfly diagram) and the Zeeman effect in sunspots. These all furthered our understanding of the Sun and finally linked solar activity with terrestrial magnetic effects such as aurora. The final part of the book briefly describes advances in our understanding during the last century and the impact the Sun has on the technology we use and possible links with our climate.

    I enjoyed reading this book and found it interesting how some of the early solar observations were made. The style is non-technical and so is suited to everyone. Throughout the book there are many drawings and images of sunspots made over the centuries, many of which I had not seen before. Who do I think would also enjoy this book: all solar observers as it is interesting to see how the solar surface has been depicted in the past and anyone who is interested in the history of astronomy and wishes to learn more about past solar observers and observations of the Sun.

    (Review by Peter Meadows reproduced from The Astronomer magazine Vol 40, No 471, July 2003).

  • 'Storms from the Sun' by Michael J. Carlowicz & Ramon E. Lopez. Joseph Henry Press, July 2002. ISBN 0-309-07642-0, Pp 256, £19.95 (hardback).

    This book, written by an American science writer who worked for NASA and a Professor of Physics at the University of Texas, has a sub title of 'The Emerging Science of Space Weather'. The book begins by describing the impact of a satellite failure on the users of pagers in the USA and asserts that this failure could have been linked to a solar flare and a coronal mass ejection that occurred a few days previously. The next chapter gives a historical account of the solar corona (seen during solar eclipses), the solar wind (via their influence on the tails of comets), aurora and sunspots (including one of Galileo's disk drawings). Then there is a short chapter on the observation of a white light flare by Richard Carrington in September 1859, the subsequent magnetic storm and the first thoughts on a possible connection between the two events. This connection is expanded in the next chapter which included an intriguing experiment by Norwegian physicist Kristian Birkeland almost 100 years ago to simulate the aurora in his laboratory by firing beams of electrons at a model of the Earth! Chapter 5 describes in more details the various aspect of the Sun including the corona, sunspots, solar flares, coronal mass ejections. The next five chapters describe the impact of space weather on electrical power generation and distribution, ground based communications systems, communications sent via satellites, satellites hardware, radiation levels for astronauts and even aircraft passengers plus the possible long term solar influence on climate patterns here on Earth. There is also a chapter on the current state of 'space weather' forecasting and how recently launched satellite are helping to improve the accuracy of these forecasts. The epilogue gives a prediction of possible impact of solar activity on every day life at the peak of the next solar cycle in 2012 such as the diverting of flights over the polar regions and the precautions required for space tourists in near earth orbit. Finally, there is a list of selected reading, a set of selected web sites, more detailed notes for each chapter and a comprehensive index.

    As someone who has an interest in the solar observing, looking for aurora and working with near-earth orbit earth observation satellites, I enjoyed reading this book and learnt more about space weather and its impact on us and the technology we use. The non-technical style and interviews with many scientists involved in space weather also made the book very easy to read - the last book I read of a similar style was 'Giotto to the Comets' by Nigel Calder published 10 years ago. The book is well written, although with a slight North American bias (which is understandable given the authors backgrounds), and nicely published with a set of colour plates in the middle of the book and black & white pictures throughout. I thus recommend this book to those of you with an interest in the Sun and the near earth environment and/or to those of you that wish to learn more about the relatively new topic of space weather.

    (Review by Peter Meadows reproduced from The Astronomer magazine Vol 39, No 462, October 2002).

  • 'Solar Observing Techniques' by Chris Kitchin. Springer-Verlag, 2002. ISBN 1-85233-035-X, Pp xxi + 218 pages with colour plates, £24 (paperback).

    This book forms part of Patrick Moore's Practical Astronomy Series: the back cover states that the book 'discusses all the precautions needed to ensure complete safety whether looking at a solar eclipse or at the full solar disk'. It also states that it 'also provides a detailed technical treatment of all aspects of solar observations, including imaging and recording your visual observations'. The topics covered include a general introduction to the Sun and what can be seen, naked eye and telescopic observing techniques, making and recording observations, solar eclipses, specialist instruments and even using radio telescopes.

    Well, does the book satisfy its aims? I would certainly agree that it discusses the safety precautions that need to be taken in such a way as to be informative and not to scare someone from making solar observations. These precautions are aimed, as is the book, at someone new to solar observing. The book also gives sufficient information for someone, for example, to attempt taking photographs or CCD images of the Sun. However, when the book discusses image processing techniques, such as enhancement or using smoothing or edge filters, the resulting images shown are much poorer than the originals! The book has a quite lengthy chapter on solar eclipses which although good and detailed, I think the space could have been used better to expand on the relatively short charter on observing programmes.

    Throughout the main part of the book, there are problems with the printing of some of the photographs in that they are quite dark and some are even featureless when the caption indicates that there should be something to see. Fortunately the colour plates at the end of the book are good but it is a pity that these are not referred to from the text. A few factual and typographical errors were found. The main factual error was to state that the sunspot number and other statistics that can be measured for each solar observations are averaged over a period of 27 days (the approximate synodic rotation period of the Sun) - in practice these are averaged over the period of a calendar month. For typographical errors, the most obvious problem was with the appendix that gives a list of useful web sites, as around 50% of the web address are missing, including that of the reviewers! It appears that the book was written as couple of years ago, as it does not discuss and show some of the excellent high resolution sunspot group images obtained by amateurs using web cams and there is no mention of Coronado hydrogen alpha filters.

    I think this book will encourage amateur astronomer to take up solar observing as it does give enough information for someone to do so.

    (Review by Peter Meadows reproduced from The Astronomer magazine Vol 38, No 450, October 2001).

  • 'Solar Astronomy Handbook' by Rainer Back, Heinz Hilbrecht, Klaus Reinsch, Peter Volker. Willmann-Bell, 1995. ISBN 0-943396-47-6, Pp xvii + 516 pages, (hardback).
  • 'Observing the Sun' by Eric Strach. Liverpool Astronomical Society, 1992. Pp 10, £1.50 (softback).

    This booklet gives information on observing the Sun in white-light from the Eric Strach's experience of solar observing. It has sections on equipment, alignment and orientation, making an observation, working out coordinates and evaluating solar activity. It is available from the Liverpool Astronomical Society publications web page.

  • 'The Sun in Hydrogen Alpha' by Eric Strach. Liverpool Astronomical Society, 1992. Pp 11, £1.50 (softback).

    This booklet gives information on observing the Sun in hydrogen alpha . It has sections on hydrogen alpha filters and what can be seen using such filters (i.e. prominences, filaments andflares). It is available from the Liverpool Astronomical Society publications web page.

Last updated on 02 August 2003.