It is a moment of excitement and perhaps even a little uncertainty. On July 17, 2013, the international team of scientists and engineers who supported and built NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, all lived through that moment. As the spacecraft orbited around Earth, the door of the telescope opened to view the mysterious lowest layers of the sun's atmosphere and the results thus far are nothing short of amazing. The data is crisp and clear, showing unprecedented detail of this little-observed region.
These two images show a section of the sun as seen by NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, on the right and NASA's SDO on the left. The IRIS image provides scientists with unprecedented detail of the lowest parts of the sun's atmosphere, known as the interface region.
Image Credit: NASA/SDO/IRIS
"These beautiful images from IRIS are going to help us understand how the sun's lower atmosphere might power a host of events around the sun," said Adrian Daw, the mission scientist for IRIS at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "Anytime you look at something in more detail than has ever been seen before, it opens up new doors to understanding. There's always that potential element of surprise."
As the telescope door opened on July 17, 2013, IRIS’s single instrument began to observe the sun in exceptional detail. IRIS’s first images showed a multitude of thin, fibril-like structures that have never been seen before, revealing enormous contrasts in density and temperature occur throughout this region even between neighboring loops that are only a few hundred miles apart. The images also show spots that rapidly brighten and dim, which provide clues to how energy is transported and absorbed throughout the region.
The IRIS images of fine structure in the interface region will help scientists track how magnetic energy contributes to heating in the sun’s atmosphere. Scientists need to observe the region in exquisite detail, because the energy flowing through it powers the upper layer of the sun’s atmosphere, the corona, to temperatures greater than 1 million kelvins (about 1.8 million F), almost a thousand times hotter than the sun's surface itself.
IRIS is a NASA Small Explorer mission that launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., on June 27, 2013. IRIS's capabilities are uniquely tailored to unravel the interface region. Understanding the interface region is important because it forms the ultraviolet emission that impacts near-Earth space and Earth’s climate. Energy traveling through the region also helps drive the solar wind, which during extreme space weather events near Earth can affect satellites, power grids, and global positioning systems, or GPS.
Designed to research the interface region in more detail than has ever been done before, IRIS's instrument is a combination of an ultraviolet telescope and what's called a spectrograph. Light from the telescope is split into two components. The first provides high-resolution images, capturing data on about one percent of the sun at a time. While these are relatively small snapshots, the images can resolve very fine features, as small as 150 miles across.
While the images are of one wavelength of light at a time, the second component is the spectrograph that provides information about many wavelengths of light at once. The instrument splits the sun's light into its various wavelengths and measures how much of any given wavelength is present. This information is then portrayed on a graph showing spectral "lines." Taller lines correspond to wavelengths in which the sun emits relatively more light. Analysis of the spectral lines can also provide velocity, temperature and density, key information when trying to track how energy and heat moves through the region.
"The quality of images and spectra we are receiving from IRIS is amazing. This is just what we were hoping for," said Alan Title, IRIS principal investigator at the Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Center Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory in Palo Alto, Calif. "There is much work ahead to understand what we're seeing, but the quality of the data will enable us to do that."
Not only does IRIS provide state-of-the-art observations to look at the interface region, it makes uses of advanced computing to help interpret what it sees. Indeed, interpreting the light flowing out of the interface region could not be done well prior to the advent of today's supercomputers because, in this area of the sun, the transfer and conversion of energy from one form to another is not understood.
The IRIS mission has long-term implications for understanding the genesis of space weather near Earth. Understanding how energy and solar material move through the interface region could help scientists improve forecasts for the kinds of events that can disrupt Earth technologies.
The IRIS Observatory was designed and the mission managed by Lockheed Martin. The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., built the telescope. Montana State University in Bozeman, Mont. designed the spectrograph. NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., provides mission operations and ground data systems. Goddard manages the Small Explorer Program for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C. The Norwegian Space Centre is providing regular downlinks of science data. Other contributors include the University of Oslo in Norway and Stanford University in Stanford, Calif.For more information about the IRIS mission, visit:
Karen C. Fox | EurekAlert!
Stellar desk in wave-like motion
08.10.2015 | Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Heidelberg
Mysterious ripples found racing through planet-forming disk
08.10.2015 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Nondestructive material testing (NDT) is a fast and effective way to analyze the quality of a product during the manufacturing process. Because defective materials can lead to malfunctioning finished products, NDT is an essential quality assurance measure, especially in the manufacture of safety-critical components such as automotive B-pillars. NDT examines the quality without damaging the component or modifying the surface of the material. At this year's Blechexpo trade fair in Stuttgart, Fraunhofer IZFP will have an exhibit that demonstrates the nondestructive testing of high-strength automotive body parts using 3MA. The measurement results are available in a matter of seconds.
To minimize vehicle weight and fuel consumption while providing the highest level of crash safety, automotive bodies are reinforced with elements made from...
The MICADO camera, a first light instrument for the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), has entered a new phase in the project: by agreeing to a Memorandum of Understanding, the partners in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Austria, and Italy, have all confirmed their participation. Following this milestone, the project's transition into its preliminary design phase was approved at a kick-off meeting held in Vienna. Two weeks earlier, on September 18, the consortium and the European Southern Observatory (ESO), which is building the telescope, have signed the corresponding collaboration agreement.
As the first dedicated camera for the E-ELT, MICADO will equip the giant telescope with a capability for diffraction-limited imaging at near-infrared...
Self-driving cars will be on our streets in the foreseeable future. In Graz, research is currently dedicated to an innovative driver assistance system that takes over control if there is a danger of collision. It was nature that inspired Dr Manfred Hartbauer from the Institute of Zoology at the University of Graz: in dangerous traffic situations, migratory locusts react around ten times faster than humans. Working together with an interdisciplinary team, Hartbauer is investigating an affordable collision detector that is equipped with artificial locust eyes and can recognise potential crashes in time, during both day and night.
Inspired by insects
An interdisciplinary team of researchers has built the first prototype of a miniature particle accelerator that uses terahertz radiation instead of radio...
At present, tiny magnetic whirls – so called skyrmions – are discussed as promising candidates for bits in future robust and compact data storage devices. At...
01.10.2015 | Event News
30.09.2015 | Event News
17.09.2015 | Event News
09.10.2015 | Earth Sciences
09.10.2015 | Life Sciences
09.10.2015 | Life Sciences