One disadvantage of having succumbed to the lure of popular science is that I spend waaaay too much on new books for my Kindle.
The most recent one was The Sun’s Heartbeat: And Other Stories from the Life of the Star That Powers Our Planet by astronomy writer Bob Berman
If you order your own copy, prepare to be sucked in.
Berman is a columnist for Astronomy magazine, a host on NPR’s Northeast Public Radio, science editor of the Old Farmer’s Almanac, and a funny dude – especially when he relates things people have asked him at lectures.
• “If it’s so dangerous to look at a solar eclipse, why do they hold them?”
• “If the sun is a star, how come we can’t see it at night?”
How It All Works
Berman explains how carbon dating works. What neutrinos and cosmic rays are. How sun spots and the aurora borealis form.
He explains that:
• The sun reverses its magnetic polarity every 22 years.
• The strongest thing the sun emits is green light. But there are no green stars in the universe.
• The daytime sky is actually violet, but because our retinas are so insensitive to this color we see it as blue.
• The sun doesn’t “burn” anything as fuel; if it did it would long since have burned out. Its energy comes from nuclear fusion.
• In Manhattan, the sun sets at the end of every numbered street on May 31 and July 11. Call it Manhattan-henge.
• In the 13th Century, an army of laborers and sculptors built a 30-story tall monument to the sun called Surya (“sun” in Sanskrit and Hindi) that still stands. Its carvings are so erotic not even cable TV could show them.
All About Rainbows
Then there’s the collection of gee-whizzes about rainbows:
• You will never see a rainbow if the sun is more than half way up the sky, so in early summer you won’t catch sight of one between 9am and 4pm.
• When the sun is low, the rainbow will be brighter and the colors deeper.
• The sky above a rainbow is much darker than the sky within its arc.
• The ends of a rainbow stop at the ground only because that’s where the rain stops, but a rainbow at a waterfall can form a full circle.
• Double rainbows are not that rare. The second bow appears 9 degrees outside the main bow and the colors are reversed.
• The gap between a primary and secondary rainbow will be darker than the rest of the sky and is called Alexander’s dark band, after Alexander of Aphrodisias.
• Rainbows are like vampires: They have no reflection and cast no shadow. (I love that one.)
Still not enough?
How about this quote from a woman who had just seen her first total solar eclipse: