My apologies to Pål Brekke for the long time it has taken me to review this book. The last seven weeks have been a blur of intense activity for me, dealing with the aftermath of the police raid on my home, finishing and launching the new website for the University of Leeds faculty of Education where I work, and handling the publication and discussion of the Unified Theory of Climate.
Our Explosive Sun: A Visual Feast of Our Source of Light and Life
This book is lavishly illustrated with many images and diagrams which make it a pleasure to read. The sections on star formation and the solar system are delivered as plain fact, consonant with the standard model, with no hint of the possibility that we may not know as much as we think we do about the processes in the deep past which brought about the formation of the planets and our Sun. There is a minor error which may have been corrected since the proof version I read which has a caption concerning Venus directly below an image of Mercury.
Sections on the aurorae seen at Earth’s northerly latitudes and the solar eruptions which cause the goemagnetic storms which generate them are nicely woven together to give a good general overview of the links between the Sun, space weather, and terrestrial effects. Christian Birkeland gets a mention, along with a couple of really interesting photos of the laboratory in which he created his model planet.
Discussion of the effect of the Sun on climate is introduced half way through the book where Pål says:
Earth has experienced large climate shifts in the past. Even during the last few thousand years, there have been large temperature variations. One thousand years ago, it was warmer on Greenland than today. Vikings settled down on the grassy hills and grew crops. This was during a period when the Sun was very active andsomewhat brighter. Later, as the Sun became more quiet and the temperature fell, the ice moved closer to the ocean and the fjord froze. The people had to abandon Greenland.
The last 100 years of human activity has also contributed to climate change due to land use changes, deforestation, and the emission of greenhouse gases. Today there is increasing concern about future climate change due to human activity. Human-driven climate change will work in addition to natural climate variability mainly caused by the Sun. If we want to understand human caused climate change, we also need better knowledge about natural climate variability. If we learn more about the Sun, we may be able to predict how it will vary in the future.
We know that variations in solar activity contribute to climate change. In particular, when we go far back in history, we find strong evidence that the Sun was an important driver for the climate. Thus, better knowledge about how the Sun varies is important.
Once again, the information is presented as plain fact, with no caveats regarding uncertainty about attribution. While readers here will be pleased to see the emphasis on the need to understand natural variability, some will feel that this synopsis still gives too much to the proponents of the unproven ‘enhanced greenhouse effect’. But we should not be too hard on Pål here, because he is making only a lightly formulated overview rather than investigating detailed arguments.
Following this there is a section on the atmosphere and how radiation is ‘trapped’ on it”s way back out of it, creating the ‘natural greenhouse effect’. No mention is made of the gas laws. Then we get some nice clear explanation of why the sky is blue and sunsets red, and the passage of the seasons and its effect on average temperature. The next sections are on human dependence on the Sun and how we utilise the Sun’s energy in various ways.
The sections on how to observe the Sun are a good guide to amateur observers and offer extra hints on safety and image enhancement. There is nothing about photography of the solar disc however. Of great interest is the following section on modern professional study of the Sun, aurorae and the atmosphere. Great photos of laser stations and other observatories enliven the interest of the book greatly and will be an inspiration to the young students the book is primarily aimed at.
The book is now available on iTunes too: