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Stuart Clark

The Sun Kings

A large solar storm can cause quite a lot of trouble on Earth in the form of power cuts, communication failures and the like. This link between solar activity and happenings on Earth isn't obvious though. In The sun kings : the unexpected tragedy of Richard Carrington and the tale of how modern astronomy began, Stuart Clark tells the story of how the link came to be recognised.

William Herschel was a keen observer of the sun and found a correlation between large numbers of sunspots and high wheat prices, suggesting that sunspots could influence Earth's climate - but this just resulted in ridicule. His son John became involved in another important piece of the puzzle, the measurement of the Earth's magnetic field. As the title suggests, much of the book looks at the work of Richard Carrington, who did regular solar observation, and in September 1859 saw a large solar flare coming from within a sunspot. Despite the fact there was disruption to telegraph communication and huge aurorae at the same time, many people still dismissed the connection as fanciful. Clark goes on to describe the work of E W Maunder, how the effects of solar activity eventually came to be accepted, and how there might indeed be something in Herschel's correlation of wheat prices and sunspots - with an unexpected link to cosmic rays.

The book also describes the politics behind the astronomy, illustrating the transition from the grand amateur to the professional astronomer. It's a well written book and doesn't require any previous knowledge of the subject. I found it to be a highly enjoyable read.

Amazon.com info
Hardcover 224 pages  
ISBN: 0691126607
Salesrank: 1085407
Weight:1.05 lbs
Published: 2007 Princeton University Press
Marketplace:New from $69.99:Used from $6.00
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Amazon.co.uk info
Hardcover 224 pages  
ISBN: 0691126607
Salesrank: 895364
Weight:1.05 lbs
Published: 2007 Princeton University Press
Marketplace:New from £15.00:Used from £14.79
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Amazon.ca info
Hardcover 224 pages  
ISBN: 0691126607
Salesrank: 442073
Weight:1.05 lbs
Published: 2007 Princeton University Press
Amazon price CDN$ 56.30
Marketplace:New from CDN$ 56.30:Used from CDN$ 21.50
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Product Description

In September of 1859, the entire Earth was engulfed in a gigantic cloud of seething gas, and a blood-red aurora erupted across the planet from the poles to the tropics. Around the world, telegraph systems crashed, machines burst into flames, and electric shocks rendered operators unconscious. Compasses and other sensitive instruments reeled as if struck by a massive magnetic fist. For the first time, people began to suspect that the Earth was not isolated from the rest of the universe. However, nobody knew what could have released such strange forces upon the Earth--nobody, that is, except the amateur English astronomer Richard Carrington.


In this riveting account, Stuart Clark tells for the first time the full story behind Carrington's observations of a mysterious explosion on the surface of the Sun and how his brilliant insight--that the Sun's magnetism directly influences the Earth--helped to usher in the modern era of astronomy. Clark vividly brings to life the scientists who roundly rejected the significance of Carrington's discovery of solar flares, as well as those who took up his struggle to prove the notion that the Earth could be touched by influences from space. Clark also reveals new details about the sordid scandal that destroyed Carrington's reputation and led him from the highest echelons of science to the very lowest reaches of love, villainy, and revenge.



The Sun Kings transports us back to Victorian England, into the very heart of the great nineteenth-century scientific controversy about the Sun's hidden influence over our planet.