Does it rain on the Sun? Read to find out!

(Image: NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory/Scientific Visualization Studio/Tom Bridgman, lead animator)

While rain on Earth is associated with water and precipitation, on the Sun comes as giant clumps of plasma, or supercharged gas, which drizzle down from the star’s atmosphere on to its surface.

It may explain why the sun’s outer atmosphere is so much hotter than the star’s surface.

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This unusual phenomenon is called coronal rain.

The scientists, which published their findings in Astrophysical Journal Letters, shared their first observations of coronal rain in a previously overlooked, much smaller type of magnetic loop on the sun.

How does the plasma rain form? 

The process is similar to that on Earth. On our planet, the water cycle begins when liquid water from the oceans, lakes and streams evaporates due to the sun’s heat and rises into the atmosphere. The cooler air above causes the water vapor to condense into clouds, which eventually get heavy enough to be dragged down by gravity and fall as rain.

In the Sun’s case, the electrically-charged plasma follows the magnetic loops emerging from the hot star’s surface, similar to a rollercoaster on tracks.

As it gets close to the endpoints, where the loop meets the Sun’s surface, the thousand-degree gas gets superheated to over 1.8 million degrees Fahrenheit. This causes the plasma to expand and gather at the top of the loop.

As it moves away from the sun’s intense heat, the gas cools, condenses, and helped by the Sun’s gravity, falls along the loop’s sides as coronal rain!

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