In checking the weather every day, many look outside to see if the sun is shining. But how much thought is given over all the ways this distant star makes life possible on planet Earth and its pervasiveness in culture?
In Chasing the Sun: The Epic Story of the Star That Gives Us Life, Richard Cohen traces the story of the sun and how it has been used and viewed throughout recorded time. The sun has been the object of many myths all over the world. Solstices and equinoxes have had celebrations as people recognize how the sun influences the changing of the seasons. Some of these events take places in structures such as Stonehenge in England where the sun shines through the center of the monument on only one day a year. Ancient people feared solar eclipses as they saw them as portents of doom. Over time, humans have worked out when eclipses would happen so they came to be expected events.
Cohen provides a history of astronomy and how knowledge of the sun has evolved. Every civilization from Egyptian, Greek, Chinese, Islamic and up to the present day have demonstrated how the earth and sun are connected. Galileo became famous for his dispute with the Roman Catholic Church about the earth orbiting the sun even though others had said the same thing. Some astronomers have studied sunspots and learned of their effect on weather and even on satellite technology. Debate has also focused on the energy of the sun and how or if climate change and global warming are tied into our closest star. In recent years as well, solar wind has been studied to see its effects. Many places are using its renewable energy in an attempt to lessen dependence on fossil fuels. With the distance and temperature of the sun, scientists expect to keep expanding what is known about this source of light.
More ways the sun sustains us: Photosynthesis, where plants convert light into oxygen, makes it possible for food sources to grow to sustain human life. This process is even carried out in the deepest parts of the ocean to benefit sea creatures that have yet to be discovered. Vitamin D helps people to be healthy and its primary source is the sun.
This orb has been used to measure time. This has led to the establishment of the 24-hour day, time zones, and the calendar – calculations all based on the sun. This star has also inspired countless works of art, literary endeavors, musical scores, and photography. Its imagery can be found on flags such as Japan. Louis XIV of France titled himself the Sun King.
Scientists tend to agree that the death of the sun is certain though it is millions of years away. The sun will become a red giant and burn itself out. Before that happens, humans will need to find another home in the universe. The Sun unites human beings in their fascination of this star. This obsession will continue as long as people and the sun survive.
This is a very comprehensive work on the sun. I enjoyed reading about all the ways it impacts life on earth. I know that I feel better on a sunny day, especially in winter! I was also fascinated in how this star has been viewed through history and in the arts. It makes me appreciate all the more this important source of life and its impact on daily life.
Audio: Richard Cohen reads from Chasing the Sun (Vanity Fair)
About the Author
Judy Klamm is a reference librarian in Central Reference. She has written book reviews for Library Journal and various Presbyterian publications.