International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

Solar Shooting Stars: Discovering Fiery Rain on the Sun


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Solar Shooting Stars

Mains level: Not Much

shooting star

Central Idea

  • Astronomers have made a remarkable discovery of meteor-like streaks on the surface of the Sun, differentiating them from the shooting stars witnessed on Earth.
  • These solar shooting stars, observed during a phenomenon known as coronal rain, offer valuable insights into the Sun’s complex dynamics.

Observing Coronal Rain and Solar Shooting Stars

  • Distinction from Earthly Shooting Stars: While shooting stars on Earth are space rocks or dust fragments burning up in our atmosphere, solar shooting stars occur within coronal rain phenomena.
  • Coronal Rain: Coronal rain is a condensation process involving extremely hot material from the Sun’s corona. It forms dense clumps of plasma, which plummet back to the Sun’s surface due to its immense gravity.
  • European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter (SolO): The SolO spacecraft provided valuable observations of solar shooting stars, capturing high-resolution images and monitoring the heating and compression of gas beneath them.

Characteristics of such Stars

  • Findings: The Solar Orbiter observed the impacts of solar shooting stars for the first time, revealing intense bursts of brightness, upward movement of stellar material, and shock waves that heat up the Sun’s corona.
  • Unique Features: Unlike Earthly shooting stars, solar shooting stars lack bright tails due to powerful magnetic fields in the Sun’s corona stripping gas from the falling clumps.
  • Challenging Observations: The magnetic fields’ influence makes the observation of solar meteors challenging, and their true nature remained unknown until these recent observations.

Insights and Implications

  • Solving the Corona Mystery: Scientists believe that the discovery of solar shooting stars could help explain why the corona, the Sun’s outermost atmosphere, is hotter than the layers beneath it. This puzzles astronomers, as conventional solar models predict increasing temperatures closer to the Sun’s core.
  • Coronal Rain Formation: Coronal rains are formed by localized temperature drops, causing solar plasma to condense into dense lumps that fall to the Sun’s cooler surface, known as the photosphere, at speeds up to 220,000 miles per hour.
  • Proximity of Observation: The Solar Orbiter’s close distance of 30 million miles from the Sun allowed for detailed observations of these phenomena, closer than the orbit of Mercury.

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