Had enough of all the rain and snow this winter? Be thankful you don't have to contend with fire falling from the sky. That doesn't happen on Earth, of course, but the Sun is a different story. Just take a look at this video of so-called "coronal rain" released this week by NASA.
In the video, superheated gas known as plasma swells up on the Sun's surface, and then an explosion sends globs of the scorching matter flying out into space. That's when the fun starts -- some of the plasma in the sun's atmosphere begins to fall back down to the surface in a dazzling display.
So what causes the fiery phenomenon? Coronal rain occurs when plasma in the solar atmosphere cools and gets attracted by magnetic field lines on the Sun's surface. As NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center explained in a written statement, "This plasma acts as a tracer, helping scientists watch the dance of magnetic fields on the sun, outlining the fields as it slowly falls back to the solar surface."
The video was captured by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory between 12:30 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. Eastern time on July 19, 2012.
This eruption was special, NASA said, because it combined three out of three possible events: a solar flare, an ejection of solar material (called a coronal mass ejection) and coronal rain.
Scott Wiessinger, a video producer at the agency's Goddard Space Center, told Gizmodo that he added to the footage a scale image of Earth to give viewers an idea of just how big the tendrils of plasma are.