Wonder Wednesday: Weather on the Sun

A few cumulus clouds with the sun in Rio de Janeiro. Picture credit to Lima Andruška via flickr.

Wait. There’s weather on the Sun? Isn’t the Sun just a burning ball of fire? The short answer is yes and no. The Sun is a star, which is a just sphere of plasma. However, there is activity happening on the Sun, which can be translated to there being “weather”.  

So, what kind of weather are we talking about? Well, there is plenty of energy moving around the Sun. This energy can create different phenomena, which is likened to different weather events we have on our planet. For instance, it does rain on the sun, but not the like the same kind of rain we experience on Earth. Instead of water, this particular shower is plasma, which is an electrified gas. The plasma rises from the surface of the Sun in a loop, which is magnetized, and cools down a bit the further away from the surface it gets. It will eventually arc back around, and drip off from the circle it creates, which is deciphered as “rain”.  

Coronal rain showers on the sun. GIF credit to NASA. (nasa.gov)

Another item scientists have recently discovered on the Sun is solar tornadoes. Unlike tornadoes on our planet, solar tornadoes are more stationary, and rotate with change of electromagnetism at the surface of the Sun. The size of these “tornadoes” are much larger than the size of Earth altogether. We experience tornadoes building up in a vertical direction, and moving on the surface of the planet, sometimes for miles, but tornadoes on the Sun build more in a horizontal direction and are also stationary. Scientists continue to examine this particular item, as it continues to fascinate many.  

A solar flare with a slight bit of rotation, which was initially thought to be a solar tornado. Picture credit to space.com.

Solar flares are a bit interesting in the fact they impact Earth in a negative way. Flares are large explosions of electromagnetic radiation from the surface of the Sun. These flares travel at the speed of light, so the excess electromagnetism does cause radio black outs on any portion of the planet facing the sun at the time. However, this is temporary. Depending on how strong the flare depends on how large of an area, and how long, the radio black out can occur.  

A video of rotation on the sun. Video credit to solar.com.

Even though there are similarities to the weather on Earth, weather on the Sun works differently because of the molecular make-up for this star. Humans won’t know from first-hand experience how the Sun’s atmosphere works because of how far away it is, and we don’t have equipment to withstand the heat of the plasma. 

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