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Interview with Pål Brekke, author of Our Explosive Sun

Pal Brekke
What is the biggest misunderstanding about the Sun that most people have?
Most people have the impression that the Sun, as seen with the naked eye, is static, placid and constant. From the ground, the only noticeable variation in the sun is its location. Where will it rise and set today? By looking at the Sun from space we know that it is far from static. It is changing all the time, in particular when observing the hot solar atmosphere. Powerful explosions and large eruptions hurl billions of tons of matter and intense x-rays are emitted. And these solar storms affect our technology-based society. It affects our daily life much more than most people realize. Radio communication, GSP navigation, satellites and power grids can be affected. So a better knowledge about the Sun is important to be able to predict and warn about solar storms, what we call space weather warnings.
Your book is lavishly illustrated. Obviously, you're a long time fan of illustrations and photos of the Sun. What are some of your favorite illustrations or photos of the Sun, can you tell us about those?
The first that comes to my mind is a unique image of the planets close to the Sun observed with the LASCO-telescope on SOHO. An occulting disk inside the telescope blocks the bright light from the solar disk creating an artificial solar eclipse. Thus, one can see the very faint corona usually only visible during a total solar eclipse. In this image, Mercury, Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and the Pleiades are also visible. Just outside the occulting disk one can see enormous ejections of gas from the hidden Sun. The horizontal strikes from the planets are artifacts from the digital camera (see left picture below, this image is on page 22 in the book).
Our Exclusive Sun
One of my other favorites is the enormous erupting loop of gas (a prominence) observed by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory where several billions of tons of material is hurled out in space. The size of the Earth is illustrated and gives you a good feeling about the size of such solar storms. SDO transmit about 1500 Gbytes of data back to Earth every day (see right picture above, Page 55 in the book).
Personally, how did you become interested in the Sun and its importance in our solar system?
The Sun has fascinated me for many years. This is perhaps not so strange since I walked my first steps at the solar observatory at Harestua, just north of Oslo. My dad worked there then. I became fascinated by how dynamic the Sun is, how it has fascinated humans for thousands of years, and how it affects our technological society. During my studies at the University in Oslo, my advisors inspired me to spend time doing public outreach. And so it was my interest for sharing knowledge about the mysteries of the Sun that led to my writing this book. Basically it is based on my public lecture series. The Sun is a perfect entrance to natural science, since it affects the Earth and humans in so many ways. Solar physics interacts with many other scientific fields, such as physics, chemistry, biology, and meteorology to mention a few.
The interview was conducted by Jeff Rutherford.

Further Information: 

Photos of auroras taken by P. Brekke