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The Sun Kings:
The Unexpected Tragedy of Richard Carrington and the Tale of How Modern Astronomy Began
Stuart Clark

Winner of the 2007 Best Professional/Scholarly Book in Cosmology and Astronomy, Association of American Publishers
Shortlisted for the 2008 Royal Society Prizes for Science Books, General Prize

Paperback | 2009 | $24.95 | £19.95 | ISBN: 9780691141268
224 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 15 halftones.
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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.


In this well-researched and very well-written book, Clark tells the embattled, little-known history of modern astronomy, a spry tale full of intrigue, jealousy, spite, dedication and perseverance."--Publishers Weekly

"Here is popular science at its best: accurate, meticulously researched . . . and full of adventures."--Simon Mitton, Times Higher Education

"The techniques of Carrington and his contemporaries gave birth to the new science of astrophysics, which can probe questions about the structure, function, and origin of the stars, planets, and the universe at large. . . . From Carrington's observations, Clark spins a lively account of seminal discoveries in spectroscopy, photography, and theoretical physics that led to the present-day understanding."--Laurence A. Marschall, Natural History

"Science journalist Stuart Clark, in his new book The Sun Kings, places [English amateur astronomer Richard] Carrington at the fulcrum of a century-long debate over the effects of sunspots, because he drew on two very different sorts of scientific observations--studies of sunspots and of the Earth's magnetic field--that together would eventually allow astronomers to see the relation between solar and terrestrial activity."--Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, American Scientist

"Well paced and well chosen, Clark's history will delight science readers."--Booklist

"Meticulously researched, The Sun Kings chronicles the largely untold story of the inception of modern astrophysics in marvelous detail."--SEED Magazine

"We still don't understand the sun, but Clark shows with verve and assurance how it is that we understand so much more than we used to."--Lorien Kaye, The Age

"A tale of ongoing speculations and proofs, The Sun Kings reveals, above all, Stuart Clark's passion for all things astronomical."--Brett Josef Grubisic, Vancouver Sun

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Table of Contents:

List of Illustrations ix
Acknowledgments xi
Prologue: The Dog Years 1
Chapter One: The First Swallow of Summer 9
Chapter Two: Herschel's Grand Absurdity 25
Chapter Three: The Magnetic Crusade 47
Chapter Four: The Solar Lockstep 58
Chapter Five: The Day and Night Observatory 71
Chapter Six: The Perfect Solar Storm 80
Chapter Seven: In the Grip of the Sun 93
Chapter Eight: The Greatest Prize of All 98
Chapter Nine: Death at the Devil's Jumps 117
Chapter Ten: The Sun's Librarian 129
Chapter Eleven: New Flare, New Storm, New Understanding 148
Chapter Twelve: The Waiting Game 168
Chapter Thirteen: The Cloud Chamber 179
Epilogue: Magnetar Spring 188
Bibliography 191
Index 207


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File created: 7/11/2017

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