Sun and Stars
The Sky & Telescope web site has coverage of last Wednesday's total solar eclipse. This particular photo was taken by Jay Pasachoff, co-author of Nearest Star, an excellent overview of solar astronomy which is currently near the top of the night table book pile.
The May issue of S&T has a great cover story on Population III stars, ultra-massive bodies which theoretically predate the dark period following the initial inflation of the universe. These stars are believed by some to be the first source of heavier elements which have been detected in Population II stars, which until now were thought to be the first stars to form after the Big Bang and which (according to that theory) should contain only the lightest elements like hydrogen, helium and deuterium. A Population III star has never been observed, but as with the CMB it may be simply a matter of waiting for the technology to catch up with the theory before instruments capable of detecting these oldest and farthest stellar bodies are developed.
My recent fixation with star formation and stellar populations was triggered while listening (for the 5th or 6th time) to Timothy Ferris' The Red Limit audiobook. Then I stumbled upon downloadable podcasts of Ohio State University's Astronomy 162: Introduction to Stars, Galaxies & the Universe lectures by Prof. Richard Pogge, along with lecture notes for the course. I always thought it would be cool to sit in on astronomy classes; this is the next best thing. Not much math involved (thankfully), and so far - I've listened up to lecture 10 - I'm able to grok the material fairly well. A lot of it is a refresher of stuff I've already read and learned, and then some of it really has advanced my understanding of things like spectrocopy, star classification, the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram, measuring the mass of distant bodies, etc.
Knowing shit like this really makes observing stars a lot more interesting; in fact, I always thought stars were pretty boring before I understood them. I suppose that's normal, because newcomers always seem to get into astronomy to look at deep sky stuff. I certainly focused on DSO's for years, and only started paying attention to stars once I accepted the fact that I wasn't going to see much in the way of galaxies with a 8" SCT under suburban skies. I've also learned that if one is really going to embrace this hobby and squeeze the most out of it, then most of one's hobbying will be done in a chair with a book (or increasingly for me, in a Jeep with an iPod).