Eating the Sun: Small Musings on a Vast Universe

Eating the Sun: Small Musings on a Vast Universe

by Ella Frances Sanders

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Overview

Winner of the 2019 Whirling Prize

“Strong on science but just this side of poetry.” —Nature 


A beautifully illustrated exploration of the principles, laws, and wonders that rule our universe, our world, and our daily lives, from the New York Times bestselling creator of Lost in Translation

Have you ever found yourself wondering what we might have in common with stars, or why the Moon never leaves us? Thinking about the precise dancing of planets, the passing of time, or the nature of natural things? 

Our world is full of unshakable mystery, and although we live in a civilization more complicated than ever, there is simplicity and reassurance to be found in knowing how and why.
 
From the New York Times bestselling creator of Lost in TranslationEating the Sun is a delicately existential, beautifully illustrated, and welcoming exploration of the universe—one that examines and marvels at the astonishing principles, laws, and phenomena that we exist alongside, that we sit within.

“[A] lyrical and luminous celebration of science and our consanguinity with the universe. . . . Playful and poignant.” —Brain Pickings

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143133162
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/16/2019
Pages: 160
Sales rank: 206,785
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

New York Times bestselling author Ella Frances Sanders is the writer and illustrator of two previous books, Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World and The Illustrated Book of Sayings: Curious Expressions from Around the World, which have both been translated into eight languages.

Read an Excerpt

THE MOST LUMINOUS OBJECTS IN THE KNOWN UNIVERSE

Your luminosity is intrinsic, but your brightness will depend on who is looking at you. In astronomy, the luminosity of an object is the total amount of energy that it emits across all wavelengths, measured over time. It is often used when referring to stars, whose luminosity will depend on their size, and mass, and temperature. Brightness (formally known as apparent brightness), although related to luminosity, varies wildly depending on the location, positioning, or proximity of the observer. Something with great luminosity might, to us, seem nothing more than a fleck of dust, only because it’s sitting and burning and minding its own business unthinkably far away. For a human standing on the surface of the planet, the brightest object is the nighttime star Sirius, primarily because it is a mere 8.6 light-years away. It is by no means the most luminous star, though, and even within the constellation containing Sirius, Canis Major, at least three other stars are thousands of times more luminous; they only appear fainter as they are so much farther away. Even the most ordinary of stars seem noteworthy from where we are, and so we point at those pins of ancient light, nod at the brightness, assign them names and neighbors. In February 1963, a Dutch astronomer named Maarten Schmidt was analyzing an unusually bright speck in the sky, slowly realizing that while he had thought it might be a nearby star, it actually was something entirely different: not close at all, but rather 2 billion light-years away, and in order for it to still be so bright at that distance it would have to be more than anything known at the time. Schmidt named this object a “quasar,” which is short for “quasi-stellar object,” or QSO. Named 3C 273, it is located in the constellation Virgo, and optically speaking is the brightest of the bunch. In the fifty or so years since this discovery, hundreds of thousands of quasars have been observed. They remain some of the most astonishing things in the universe, and are perhaps the most luminous of all. Lying in the middle of galaxies, galaxies with vast black holes that can be billions of times larger than the sun, the temperature of a quasar can reach tens of millions of degrees, and their immense radiation means they outshine everything around them, drowning out all nearby stars. But they are not unchanging, and while one minute a quasar might be blinding, ten years later it can have become just another average galaxy. In astronomical terms, ten years is the briefest of moments, but it is events and observations such as this that lead to a better understanding of a black hole’s appetite: how they can be ravenously hungry one moment and completely disinterested the next.

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