Video: Hot Plasma Rains Down on the Sun

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Credit: SDO/AIA

NASA's new Solar Dynamics Observatory has been operating for only a week, and already its keen-eyed cameras have captured phenomena affecting our local star in unprecedented detail. First, the spacecraft, which operates in geosynchronous Earth orbit, produced the best map yet of solar surface temperatures—with a psychedelic image to boot. Now, scientists watching examples of what they call plasma rain—actually billions of tons of debris from solar eruptions falling back to the surface—think they have solved a longstanding mystery. Much of the debris was expected to rain back down, recaptured by the sun's gravity. But as this video shows, it's falling slower than expected. The reason, as revealed by the SDO images, is that the debris is being buoyed by a cushion of hot gas, something that had remained undetected in previous observations. NASA scientists say they're already wondering what next week will bring.