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A solar flare, and rain on the sun


February 23, 2013 — A rare confluence of astronomical events begins with a solar flare ejecting coronal matter into space, then pulling it back down into the sun's surface.


Solar plasma falls back to the sun's surface guided by magnetic fields.
Solar plasma falls back to the sun's surface guided by magnetic fields.

NASA released this video over the weekend, showing a sped-up depiction of a solar flare that seems to culminate in solar material raining back down on the sun's surface.

Karen C. Fox, of NASA's Goddard Flight Centre, wrote an explanation of just what was happening when NASA telescopes captured the images in July:

A moderately powerful solar flare exploded on the sun's lower right limb, sending out light and radiation.

Next came a CME, which shot off to the right out into space.

And then, the sun treated viewers to one of its dazzling magnetic displays – a phenomenon known as coronal rain.  Over the course of the next day, hot plasma in the corona cooled and condensed along strong magnetic fields in the region.

Magnetic fields, themselves, are invisible, but the charged plasma is forced to move along the lines, showing up brightly in the extreme ultraviolet wavelength of 304 Angstroms, which highlights material at a temperature of about 50,000 Kelvin.

This plasma acts as a tracer, helping scientists watch the dance of magnetic fields on the sun, outlining the fields as it slowly falls back to the solar surface.  The footage in this video was collected by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory's Atmospheric Imaging Assembly (AIA) instrument.

SDO collected one frame every 12 seconds, and the movie plays at 30 frames per second, so each second in this video corresponds to six minutes of real time.

The video covers 12:30 a.m. EDT to 10:00 p.m. EDT on July 19, 2012, and NASA released the images late last week.

The soundtrack was composed by Lars Leonhard, and the video was put together by the NASA/SDO/Goddard Scientific Visualization Studio.

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