Spectacular 'shooting stars’ can be found in the Sun’s corona, astronomers reveal

Newcastle, England – A team of astronomers from several European institutions has made an amazing discovery of so-called „shooting stars” in the Sun. The findings come from observations by the European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter (SolO), which revealed meteorite-like fireballs as part of spectacular plasma systems.

Coronal showers do not contain actual water; Rather, it is a condensation process where some of the Sun’s emitting material coalesces due to a sudden, localized temperature drop. The outer layer of the Sun’s atmosphere, called the corona, consists of gas heated to millions of degrees. Rapid cooling in this layer creates ultra-dense clumps of plasma that can spread up to 250 kilometers wide. These balls of plasma are then driven back towards the Sun by gravity, at speeds of up to 100 kilometers per second.

„Inside Solar crown So hot that we can never explore it with a spaceship,„says lead author Patrick Andolin, assistant professor at Northumbria University in Newcastle. Media release. „However, the Solar Orbiter orbits so close to the Sun that it can detect small-scale events occurring within the corona, such as the impact of rain on the corona, allowing an invaluable indirect study of the coronal environment that is important for understanding its composition and thermodynamics.”

The SolO view in EUV on 30 March 2022 shows a fraction of the Sun with gas at 1 million degrees. The red tracks correspond to some of the rain tracks analyzed in this work. Image of Earth is overlaid to scale.
(Credit: Patrick Antolin. Background image: ESA/Solar Orbiter EUI/HRI)

The study focuses on Solo’s initial close approach to the Sun. In the spring of 2022, the orbiter passed within 49 million kilometers of the Sun – only about a third of the distance between Earth and the Sun – capturing the most detailed images ever obtained of the solar corona. The spacecraft not only captured the first ultra-high-resolution images of coronal shower clusters, but also observed the increase in gas temperature and compression beneath them. These spikes represent brief periods of gas heating up to a million degrees.

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On Earth, shooting stars occur when meteorites — space objects ranging from dust grains to small asteroids — enter our atmosphere at high speeds and disintegrate. Some reach the earth’s surface, forming craters. However, because the Sun’s corona is thin and less dense, plasma clumps do not significantly erode, allowing most to reach the Sun’s surface intact. This is the first time their impact has been observed.

Unlike Earth’s shooting stars, which form tails through a process called ablation, the Sun’s shooting stars do not form tails. The reason for this is the sun magnetic field The infalling gas is partially ionized and moves along the magnetic field lines. These act like giant tubes that move the gas event It is difficult to grasp.

Solow’s observations confirmed previous research, showing that coronal showers are more widespread than previously believed. „If humans were aliens capable of living on the surface of the Sun, we would continue to be gifted with spectacular views of shooting stars, but we must watch our heads!” Andolin says jokingly.

The research was presented at the National Astronomical Meeting (NAM 2023). It is published in a special issue of the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.

Southwest News Service writer Dean Murray contributed to this report.

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