"The Sun Kings: The Unexpected Tragedy of Richard Carrington and the Tale of How Modern Astronomy Began" by Stuart Clark
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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.
Stuart Clark is a former editor of the United Kingdom's best-selling astronomy magazine, Astronomy Now. He currently writes for the European Space Agency and is a regular contributor to such magazines as New Scientist and BBC Focus. He is the author of several books, including Journey to the Stars and Universe in Focus: The Story of the Hubble Telescope.
"In this sprightly and spirited narrative, a few determined scientists set out to correlate the pattern of dark spots on the Sun's face with the igniting of earthly aurora, the interruption of telegraph (later satellite) transmissions, and even the price of wheat in England. Of course, the world thought them mad. The 'sun kings,' as Stuart Clark so aptly names these pioneers, persevered through ridicule, animosity, and personal tragedy to forge a link across space and fathom the true nature of the Sun. I found myself captivated by the characters, the colossal problems they tackled, and the stunning conclusions they finally reached. I commend Clark for combining so many interesting ideas into a single, fast-paced, beautifully crafted story."
Dava Sobel, author of Longitude, Galileo's Daughter, and The Planets
"Herein lies the tale of intrepid astronomers, across time and cultures, who were the first to observe, identify, and document our misbehaving Sun. But by the time you are done, you realize that the story's main protagonist–the one with all the personality-is not any one of the scientists, but the Sun itself. A delightful, informative read."
Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist, American Museum of Natural History, author of Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries
"Stuart Clark illuminates the dawn of astrophysics by tracing the rise and fall of Richard Carrington, the man who first glimpsed how events on the Sun affect our lives on Earth. No faceless automatons, the scientists in this tale blend a passion for their work with the more worldly passions of pride, jealousy, greed, and lust."
Robert P. Kirshner, Clowes Professor of Science, Harvard University
"Stuart Clark's The Sun Kings is undoubtedly the most gripping and brilliant popular-science history account that I have ever read. It is informative, accurate, and relevant. Clark's ability to write so vividly makes me seethe with jealousy.
Owen Gingerich, author of The Book Nobody Read: Chasing the Revolutions of Nicolaus Copernicus
"Clark tells a gripping story with several intersecting personal dramas that make unexpectedly exciting reading for a book with such a substantial academic theme. I learned a thing or two about how it was first realized and then proved–over the objection of the powerful Lord Kelvin–that the magnetism thrown off the Sun reaches the Earth. Those not familiar with the overall story will benefit even more from the discussion and analysis."
Jay M. Pasachoff, coauthor of The Cosmos: Astronomy in the New Millennium