Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Coronal Rain

We have a stellar furnace at the center of our solar system and we know remarkably little about it. A new Solar Dynamics Observatory is apparently changing that. The link is worth a click through, if only for the photos. They are lovely. Be sure to click on the slideshow thumbnail on the right. Just the first photo of the sun turns our central star into something that looks like it belongs in a horror show - it's beautiful and kind of terrifying all at once. You can imagine that bright/dark star over a world of fiends. As to the point of the article, apparently, when plasma erupts from the sun, it arcs along magnetic lines in the corona and the plasma then falls back to the surface of the sun in vivid splashes - if one is allowed a watery metaphor for something registering 60,000 degrees Kelvin. The plasma falls in 'droplets' and are referred to as coronal rain. The mystery had been in why the drops fall so slowly. The new observatory offered enough detail of the sun's corona to allow scientists to realize that masses of hot gas are buoying the 'rain', slowing its descent through the solar atmosphere. Interesting, no? Nice possible romantic moment - escape your bad guys and sit watching a plasma eruption and the subsequent rain. From within the safe confines of your starship, of course. Or have to navigate close enough to a star to have to deal with the massive heat as well as the super-heated gases, as well as the potential plasma eruptions. Dodge one of those and remember that you have to dodge the coronal rain as well. Mm. Nothing like the threat of imminent death to get the creative juices flowing. Now. Where were those matches?

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