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Stars and solar physics

Stars and solar physics

Celestial companion

17 Aug 2017 Tushna Commissariat
Taken from the August 2017 issue of Physics World

Totality: the Great American Eclipses of 2017 and 2024
Mark Littmann and Fred Espenak
2017 Oxford University Press 347pp £25hb

A total solar eclipse
A total solar eclipse

It’s safe to say that finding a book about eclipses is an easy task – they number in the hundreds and vary from tiny pocketbooks to glossy coffee-table books with incredible pictures. In this saturated market, it can be difficult to pick out a useful guide to learning about eclipses and how to view them. In case you are lucky enough to be in the path of the upcoming eclipse this month, but don’t feel fully prepared when it comes to, say, photographing this seemingly rare event, or you are really keen on getting to grips with the science in detail, then Totality: the Great American Eclipses of 2017 and 2024, written by Mark Littmann and Fred Espenak, is the book for you. At first glance, it may come off looking too much like a science textbook, and in some ways it is. But don’t let that put you off. Littmann is an award-winning astronomy writer, while Espenak is better known as “Mr Eclipse” and between the two of them, Totality covers pretty much everything you would possibly want or need to know about eclipses. The book is detailed, but the language is clear, simple and even poetic at times, as the authors describe each aspect of an eclipse. The chapters cover everything from the mythology and lore of eclipses; how our understanding of these events has grown over the millennia; the scientific impact of eclipses, including the eclipse of 1919, which the authors describe as the “eclipse that made Einstein famous”; and of course step-by-step guides on how to safely observe and photograph a total solar eclipse. The chapter on photography is especially useful for those who may be keen on capturing this event but are unsure of what works and what equipment is necessary. Littmann and Espenak explain how even the simplest of cameras or a smartphone can be used, while also detailing techniques for those with more photographic equipment and/or ability. Each chapter is full of tables, charts, diagrams and maps, so if an in-depth study on all things eclipse-related is what you are looking for, then get a copy of Totality.

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