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One of the great mysteries of the sun is why its outer atmosphere, the corona, is actually up to 300 times hotter than its surface.
But a NASA researcher might have found a clue, in the form of a mysterious ‘rain’ which falls onto the sun’s surface.
Emily Mason spent years searching for coronal rain: giant globs of plasma, or electrified gas, that drip from the Sun’s outer atmosphere back to its surface.
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She eventually found signs of it in magnetic structures near the surface of the sun – not in the huge ‘streamers’ where she thought the rain would be found.
MAson said, ‘They were really bright and they kept drawing my eye. When I finally took a look at them, sure enough they had tens of hours of rain at a time.
The find holds a clue to how the corona is heated, Mason believes.
While the findings don’t say exactly how the corona is heated, ‘They do push down the floor of where coronal heating could happen,’ said Mason.
She had found raining loops that were some 30,000 miles high, a mere two percent the height of some of the huge streamers she was looking for.
The rain condenses the region where the key coronal heating can be happening.
‘We still don’t know exactly what’s heating the corona, but we know it has to happen in this layer,’ said Mason.