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Sun, science and serendipity
on 17 September 2013
So densely packed is the information in this little book the author is to be commended for creating the literary equivalent of a neutron star. Indeed the scope of this short work is astonishing: covering such issues as reconciling the age of the sun with evolutionary timescales, supernovae, the discovery of radiation and the application of Newtonian physics and special relativity to the discovery of the neutrino.
Physics aside, Close presents a compelling study of the serendipitous nature of scientific investigation both in terms of discoveries and the recognition given to the scientists who are the human protagonists in the drama. A success of the book is in celebrating the contribution of the likes of Pontecorvo and Bahcall, overlooked by the Nobel Prize committees but admired by fellow scientists.
This book is detailed in the scientific methodology of neutrino detection but is equally focussed on the human circumstances associated with the research. The resolution of the missing solar neutrinos is balanced by the cruel irony that it led to unnecessary suspicions about the reliably of the use of chlorine as a means of detection which ultimately stripped the likes of Bahcall the recognition his calculations deserved.
The author is gifted in being able to discuss such a wide spectrum of ideas in an effortless and succinct style. This is best evidenced in the brilliant description of the traversing of neutrinos from a supernova explosion 170, 000 light years across space juxtaposed against a description of the emerging evolution of humanity, before finally being detected in 1987.
Although neutrinos may at first seem rather esoteric, Close is able to emphasise their scientific significance in for example neutrino astronomy which has been used to confirm scientific theories about supernovae and resultant neutron stars. He also highlights the future potential role of neutrino geophysics in enhancing the understanding of our own planet.