Astronomical imprints: forensics of the sun

“In 1904 a young American named Andrew Ellicott Douglass started to collect tree specimens,” A.R.T. Jonkers writes in his book, Earth’s Magnetism in the Age of Sail.

“He was not seeking a pastime to fill his hours of leisure; his motivation was purely professional,” Jonkers continues. “Yet he was not employed by any forestry department or timber company, and he was neither a gardener not a botanist. For decades he continued to amass chunks of wood, all because of a lingering suspicion that a tree’s bark was shielding more than sap and cellulose. He was not interested in termites, or fungal parasites, or extracting new medicine from plants. Douglass was an astronomer, and he was searching for evidence of sunspots.”

Stars leave their imprints everywhere; even “getting a tan” is an interaction with astronomy played out on the level of skin. If you want news of the universe, in other words, simply look around you: stars leave scars in wood and burns on bodies.

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