Spectacular NASA video shows plasma 'rain' on sun

NASA released an amazing video of an enormous solar flare erupting on the sun in July 2012

NASA/SDO
A close-up of a spectacular loop of solar plasma 'rain' on the sun as seen by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft in July 2012.

Loops of superheated plasma far larger than Earth rain down on the solar surface in a dazzling video captured by a NASA sun-watching spacecraft.

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) watched as a medium-strength flare erupted from the sun on July 19, 2012. The blast also generated the enormous, shimmering plasma loops, which are an example of a phenomenon known as "coronal rain," agency officials said.

"Hot plasma in the corona [the sun's outer atmosphere] cooled and condensed along strong magnetic fields in the region," NASA officials wrote in a description of the four-minute video of solar plasma "rain", which NASA released Wednesday (Feb. 20).

"Magnetic fields are invisible, but the charged plasma is forced to move along the lines, showing up brightly in the extreme ultraviolet wavelength of 304 Angstroms, and outlining the fields as it slowly falls back to the solar surface," they added.

The $850 million SDO spacecraft recently marked three years in space. It launched on Feb. 11, 2010, kicking off a five-year prime mission to provide incredibly detailed views of the sun, solar flares and other space weather events.

SDO has delivered thus far, capturing more than 100 million images of our star as of late last year. Some of the spacecraft's most memorable shots over the last year are highlighted in another video, which NASA released last week to celebrate the mission's birthday.

But SDO has done more than just shine a light on the sun. The spacecraft has also helped scientists better understand comets, especially "sungrazers" like Comet Lovejoy, which survived a death dive through the sun's corona in December 2011.

And scientists used SDO to learn more about Venus' atmosphere during the planet's "transit" across the sun's face, from Earth's perspective, in June of last year. The Venus transit transfixed skywatchers and researchers around the world, as the next one won't come until 2117.

SDO isn't the only spacecraft keeping tabs on the sun, which is currently in an active phase of its 11-year activity cycle, with a peak expected later this year. NASA's twin Stereo probes also provide daily views of our star, as does the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, a collaboration between NASA and the European Space Agency.

Follow SPACE.com senior writer Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall or SPACE.com @Spacedotcom. We're also on Facebook and Google+

Copyright 2013 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.