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The Magnetic Universe

The Magnetic Universe: The Elusive Traces of an Invisible Force

Johns Hopkins Univ Press, Baltimore, MD 2009.
By J. B. Zirker

Review By Bala Poduval

What role does the magnetic field play in the Universe? It is all-permeating. It influences everything in the Universe and constitutes one of the four fundamental forces in nature – the electromagnetic force.

The earth has a magnetic field around, other planets have, our very Sun has a magnetic field that varies in strength and complexity over a period of 11 years, stars, galaxies, … .

The Magnetic Universe: The Elusive Traces of an Invisible Force, a book by J. B. Zirker, is a delightful narration of the magnetic fields in the universe – from earth to the cosmos. Zirker, an emiritus astronomer at the National Science Foundation, begins with a historical account of magnetism, followed by terrestrial magnetism.

In Chapters 3 and 4, he describes various manifestations of solar magnetic field: sunspots, flares, CMEs (Coronal Mass Ejections), with an account of various theories on energy release and related physics.

The interplanetary medium (heliosphere) was considered to be a vacuum until the early satellites in the 1960s detected solar plasma and particles or the solar wind. The spatial and temporal variations in the solar wind can cause serious damages to manned and unmanned space missions and the study of these variations is known as Space Weather. Chapters 5 and 6 describes the conditions in the heliosphere and their effects on the near-Earth space.

A brief account of planetary magnetism is presented in Chapter The Planets.

At this point Zirker leaves the solar system and takes you out to the vast cosmos, describing the role of magnetic field in the formation and evolution of stars, glaxies and other objects in the universe. He concludes the book with the origin of magnetic fields in the universe.

The simple language and, elegant sturcture and orientation of the book makes it easily understandable and enjoyable to students, younsters and the general public. Zirker provides explanatory notes on each chapter at the end of the book to help with better understanding of the subject and additional reading.


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