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Using NASA's brand new Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), solar physicists are already beginning to understand some of the sun's greatest mysteries. And last week, the SDO may have provided an answer to one of its most beautiful (yet perplexing) phenomena: coronal rain.
The SDO may have only given us its 'first-light' images less than two weeks ago, but scientists analyzing the SDO's high-definition movies of the sun are seeing features in the lower corona (the sun's atmosphere) that they have never seen before.
In this case, the SDO spotted an eruption of plasma in the lower corona, spitting huge quantities of hot plasma into space, like water being pumped through a firehose. But this 'water' has a temperature of over 60,000 Kelvin (not the kind of 'water' you'd want to get sprayed with, you'd be vaporized in an instant!). However, the plasma couldn't escape the gravitational pull of the sun and fell back to the solar 'surface' (known as the photosphere).
80 images were taken during 5 m 41 s long totality by means of a Canon EOS 5D digital camera equipped with my old well-tried Russian Maksutov-Cassegrain 6.3/500 mm. Unfortunately the absolutely clear weather several minutes before the totality was interrupted by a small cumulus cloud and a part of the total eclipse was lost. After careful inspection of all eclipse images, 38 images which were not influenced by clouds were chosen. These images were calibrated by means of about 300 dark frames and about 100 flat-field images. The resulting image is finally over my expectation and the influence of clouds nearly negligible. The position of the Moon represents the situation 136 seconds after the second contact i. e. 03:30:55 UT (15:30:55 local time). The display of the solar corona, lunar surface and stars in the resulting image are highly beyond the ability of human vision during the eclipse. The weakest stars visible in the image are of about magnitude 10. The stars are a little bit blurred by the motion of the Sun during the very long eclipse.