A simple search through the internet or a flick of a television channel can tell you everything you want to know about the weather across the world. However, weather beyond the Earth’s atmosphere is nowhere near as familiar. Many celestial bodies have their own kinds of weather, including rains which is in various forms such as liquid methane, sulfuric acid, plasma, or even diamonds.
On Titan, one of Saturn’s moon, liquid methane and ethane falls on its surface just as water falls on Earth. The moon’s liquid methane lakes enable a methane cycle that is found similar to Earth’s water cycle. Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley claim that on Jupiter, helium gas condenses into liquid droplets and falls on the planet’s surface like rain. Mars witnesses dry ice storms while Venus experiences rain in the form of sulfuric acid. Perhaps the most interesting rain of all is found on Uranus and Neptune. According to researchers, methane molecules which are highly pressurized crystallize to form tiny diamonds that fall on these gaseous planets.
Rains have been spotted on the Sun too. On August 2016, NASA’s IRIS captured a video of a mid-level solar flare or explosions of radiation on the solar limb. During flares, a great amount of magnetic energy is released, thereby heating the sun’s atmosphere and releasing energized particles into space. The footage shows how a solar flare can cause solar material called plasma to come down to the solar surface in great loops, a phenomenon called coronal rain. Plasma is a gas where positively and negatively charged particles have separated, forming a superheated mix. When hot plasma moves into a cooler part of the corona – a luminous envelope of plasma that surrounds the Sun, it condenses and falls back to the sun’s surface.
Recently, a hunt for plasma precipitation in the sun’s atmosphere revealed that the rain shows up in unexpected places. Coronal rain can take place at any place in the corona where temperatures go from higher to lower, says Emily Mason, a solar physicist of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., who presented the new observations of coronal rain at the Triennial Earth-Sun Summit on May 22, 2018. Theoretical studies by others at the University suggested that tall streamers, which can extend as much as 6 solar radii above the sun’s surface, could be hotter at their base than their tip and therefore should be full of rain. Mason found rain showers but in much shorter loops known as null-point topologies, which stretch only to around 0.1 solar radii above the surface. Coronal rain fell in one of these smaller loops for 30 hours.
The discovery is startling as shorter loops should have less of a temperature difference from bottom to top than the tall streamers, making such precipitation harder. According to Mason, the shorter loops don’t rain more than streamers but the plasma blobs in such loops might be larger and easier to see. In tall streamers, as the temperature changes more gradually, blobs would end up being smaller.
These occurrences show that this infinite universe is full of mysteries and miracles. If we really pause to ponder about how beautiful every creation is, we will find ourselves in awe and amazement.