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Reviews - May 2008

Basics of the Solar Wind

Nicole Meyer-Vernet
Published by: Cambridge University Press
Publication date: 2007
ISBN: 0521814200
List price: £70.00
463 pp

The solar wind, charged particles flowing from the Sun, reaches everything in the solar system: dust, comets, planets. Although Earth’s magnetosphere acts as a shield from this potentially dangerous radiation, it is not a physical barrier. Our magnetic field deflects much of the flow, like water flowing around a rock in midstream, but the process of deflection itself changes our magnetosphere. And not all the solar wind is deflected: when we see aurora we are watching the effects of solar wind particles inside our magnetosphere.

The solar wind brings the Sun to our doorstep, and, with the new generation of geomagnetic instruments able to measure its effects while monitoring our magnetic field, space weather is coming to the attention of geoscientists. This book, published during the 2007 ‘International Heliophysical Year’ and at a time of renewed interest in the volume of space dominated by the Sun, is an introduction to the causes, properties, effects and consequences of the wind. It aims to provide “physical intuition rather than mathematical rigour” - That said, plasma physics is complex and even the simplified treatment presented here, focused on physical principles, is not trivial. However, it is an excellent place to start, and the physics and maths tools needed to unpick Maxwell’s equations and magnetohydrodynamics, for example, are presented clearly and concisely. The author has an easy style and a knack for clarity, picking out questions to answer and summarising key points without dull repetition.

There are plenty of illustrations, including some excellent sketches and cartoons, and overviews of the types of images used to study the Sun and the spacecraft that collect much of the data. Later parts of the book consider the effects of the solar wind on dust and larger solar system bodies, including the planets, but also examine the effects on comets, whose tails played a big part in the discovery of the solar wind in the first place.

Overall, this is a good place to start to understand the workings of the heliosphere and how everything from dust to spacecraft is affected by the all-pervasive plasma. Nicole Meyer-Vernet has done an excellent job of starting at the very beginning of a complex topic and talking the reader through to an understanding of current research questions, with good humour and a sharp eye for inconsistencies.

Sue Bowler

Silurian Fossils of the Pentland Hills, Scotland

Euan N K Clarkson, David A T Harper, Cecilia M Taylor & Lyall I Anderson
Published by: The Palaeontological Association, London
Publication Date: 2007
ISBN: 9781405177153
List price: ₤15.00
218 pp

Silurian rocks are exposed in three inliers in the Pentland Hills, near Edinburgh, Scotland. Over 1500m of section crops out and the rocks represent a transition from deepwater to continental depositional environments. These rocks contain an abundance of well-preserved fossils.

This book is the 11th title in the ‘Field Guides to Fossils’ series published by the Palaeontological Association, and provides for the first time a compilation of the diverse range of Silurian fossils found in the Pentland Hills. It comprises 18 chapters, three providing introduction, background and palaeoenvironmental context and 15 providing more detailed descriptions of specific fossil groups. The introductory chapters include a comprehensive review of the history of research in the Pentland Hills and summarise succinctly the latest interpretations of depositional environments and palaeocommunities. This provides a fascinating insight into life in the Scottish Silurian Seas. The detailed chapters on specific fossil groups are compiled by subject-matter experts, who provide authority to the text and ensure technical veracity. Fossil groups are discussed in detail and the principal fossil forms of the Pentland Hills are described and classified. In addition to the typical Silurian fossil groups, such as the brachiopods, trilobites and graptolites, there are chapters on less well-documented groups such as the bivalves, gastropods, echinoids and stelleroids. Particularly interesting are the unusual fossil groups covered, including algae, bryozoans, arthropods and miscellanea.

The book provides a comprehensive compendium of Pentland Hills Silurian fossils, with good-quality photographs. The text is enhanced by many distinguished contributors with extensive experience of their subject matter. It includes interesting and amusing historical anecdotes and provides helpful comparisons with other Silurian sections in the UK, Scandinavia and North America. A comprehensive bibliography will provide a useful starting point for the more serious researcher. The only minor criticism that can be made is that individual chapters were written independently and so introductory material tends to be repeated in later chapters.

In summary, this is a splendid little book that will serve as a useful reference for both the amateur collector and the professional palaeontologist. It is easy to read and well-organised for specific research, is a handy size for taking into the field and is very reasonably priced.

Gary Robertson