Our Sun: The Closest of Stars

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The sun is our immediate connection to the cosmos. Its light illuminates our world. Its energy fuels most life as we know it. It is one of billions of stars, but it is a special one. It is ours.

Much of today’s exciting space science regards planets and visitors from other solar systems. But closer to home, our sun is also fascinating. Leon Golub and Jay Pasachoff recently wrote a fascinating book about it featuring dozens of beautiful images. Filling Space asked them to share their thoughts on this closest of stars.


What made you decide to organize your most recent book about the sun around images?

JP: The images flowed naturally as we described our understanding of the sun and how we studied it. The sun is so photogenic, especially because we can see it with 2D imaging with short exposures. This is unlike the distant points that are other stars, or the images of deep-sky objects made with long exposures and color compositing.

LG: I would add that the decision to start each chapter with an image was intentional, and formed the basic structure of the book. Rather than the usual method of using images to supplement the words, we start with an image and use the subsequent chapter to explain what that image is showing, and what the importance of that object is.

What do you think is one of the most underappreciated aspects of the sun that more people should know about?

JP: The sun is a laboratory close up for the billions and trillions of stars that are so far away that we don’t see surface detail on them. So, for example, by studying the solar corona at total eclipses we find details about the coronal shape and dynamics that we can’t see in detail on other stars but that we know exist there.

What do you recommend to young scientists interested in learning more about the sun?

JP: I recommend three websites for following the sun daily: SolarMonitor.org (for daily views of the sun through various filters and telescopes); Spaceweather.com (for daily sunspots); and sidc.oma.be/silso (for the sunspot cycle). And, of course, I recommend going to the next total and annular solar eclipses (and at least, with suitable filtering, observing the partial phases).

Of course, we’d be happy to have young scientists read our books about the sun – The Sun and Nearest Star: The Surprising Science of Our Sun – both listed at solarcorona.com.