The Enigma of Sunspots

A Story of Discovery and Scientific Revolution

Judit Brody

Out of print

Quick Look

Charts the fascinating history of our efforts to understand sunspots, and the lives and quarrels of those dedicated astronomers who first charted their mysterious patterns.

198 x 148 mm
Floris Books
Philosophy of the Natural World
30 b/w and 30 colour photographs
192 pages
Publication date:
24 Oct 2002


Sunspots are dark areas of irregular shape on the Sun's surface, some as large as 50,000 miles (80,000 km) in diameter. They move across the surface, contracting and expanding as they go, and are often big enough to be seen with the naked eye.

Given their elusive cyclical nature, and the fact that it is both painful and dangerous to observe the Sun directly, it is little wonder that records of sunspots are almost non-existent in Europe before the seventeenth century. Mentions of sunspots were ignored by early astronomers and philosophers, who followed Aristotle in believing that the heavens were perfect.

Judit Brody charts the fascinating history of our efforts to understand sunspots, and the lives and quarrels of those dedicated astronomers who first charted their mysterious patterns and whose records are still of vital importance.

Today solar emissions are thought to coincide with major effects in global weather patterns, and a deeper scientific understanding of the Sun's nature and behaviour, using modern telescopes and other instruments, has never been more important.


'Brody has […] produced a book that is concise, very informative, and highly readable. Moreover it reads like a thriller. There are few good science books that can be reading matter for plane or train journeys, but this is one of them. If you've never seen sunspots, this book will make you want to. If you are interested in the Sun, the history of astronomy, or how science works, read this book.'
-- Ken Tapping, The Observatory, August 2003

'This is a fascinating book. It gives the reader a very informative and easily read survey of the observation, recording, theories and understanding of sunspots, and more generally the Sun. Many illustrations complement the text well....excellent.'
-- Richard Bailey, Popular Astronomy, January-March 2003

'The Enigma of Sunspots is a well-crafted and beautifully illustrated historical review of attempts to understand these solar blemishes and their effects on Earth. The interplay of observational evidence and theory, amateur and professional endeavours, makes this a perfect case history of the way 19th century astronomy advanced.'
-- New Scientist, 22 March 2003

'This delightful little book presents a comprehensive historical account of the discovery and study of the dark blotches on the Sun. This is no dry history but a very lively story. The book is illustrated with wonderful historical sunspot observations and with recent photographs. This is a "Must Have" for your bookshelf. You can dip into it to find information on past astronomers' lives or it can be used for a jolly good bedtime read. You won't be able to put it down.'
-- Anne Urquhart-Potts, Gnomon: magazine of the Association for Astronomy Education

'This well-documented, profusely illustrated "story of discovery" of sunspots is written in a fine narrative style and serves as a good introduction.'
-- Henry Goulden, New View, Winter 2002/3

'I enjoyed reading this book and found it interesting how some of the early solar observations were made. The style is non-technical and so is suited to everyone. Throughout the book there are many drawings and images of sunspots made over the centuries, many of which I had not seen before. Who do I think would enjoy this book: all solar observers as it is interesting to see how the solar surface has been depicted in the past and anyone who is interested in the history of astronomy and wishes to learn more about past solar observers and observations of the sun.'
-- Peter Meadows, The Astronomer, July 2003

'Excellent preparation for teachers to enrich discussions on astrophysics, magnetic fields and plasma physics. Contains comprehensive coverage of all aspects of sunspot studies from ancient myths and primitive observations through to the most up-to-date scientific research. The text is full of interesting anecdotes and fascinating facts. Beautifully written, it uniquely draws from literary and philosophical sources. This book would certainly be a valuable addition to an astronomy club or the school library. It should further inspire pupils to third-level physics studies.'
-- Caroline Greer, School Science Review, June 2003


Judit Brody fled Hungary following the revolution of 1956. At first she was a mathematics and physics teacher, then in turn became a mother, a librarian, a historian of science and a grandmother. As a librarian she worked in the Science Museum in London, at Stanford University in California and in the College of Santa Fe in New Mexico. She has written many articles for scientific publications, including New Scientist.

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