NASA Is Readying IRIS Spacecraft For Launch In June
May 21, 2013

NASA Is Readying IRIS Spacecraft For Launch In June

[WATCH VIDEO: 'IRIS Readies For A New Challenge' Mission Trailer]

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

NASA is getting ready to launch a new mission in June this year called the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS).

IRIS will help advance scientists understanding of the interface region, which is an area in the lower atmosphere of the sun where most ultraviolet emissions are generated. Emissions from this area impact the near-Earth space environment and Earth's climate.

The interface region lies between the sun's 11,000-degree Fahrenheit visible surface, the photosphere, and the much hotter multi-million-degree upper corona. Interactions between the moving plasma and the sun's magnetic field may be the source of the energy that heats the corona to some hundreds and occasionally thousands of times hotter than the sun's surface.

NASA said in a statement that IRIS will be orbiting Earth and using its ultraviolet telescope to capture high-resolution images of the sun. Scientists will be able to use the spacecraft's observations and advanced computer modeling such as Pleiades at NASA's Ames Research Center to help deepen our understanding of how heat and energy move through the lower atmosphere of the sun.

"This is the first time we'll be directly observing this region since the 1970s," said Joe Davila, IRIS project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md, in January when final testing on IRIS had begun. "We're excited to bring this new set of observations to bear on the continued question of how the corona gets so hot."

IRIS telescope will see about one percent of the sun at a time and resolve that image to show the sun as small as 150 miles across. It will be capturing a new image every five- to ten-seconds, and spectra about every one- to two-seconds.

“The interpretation of the IRIS spectra is a major effort coordinated by the IRIS science team that will utilize the full extent of the power of the most advanced computational resources in the world. It is this new capability, along with development of state of the art codes and numerical models by the University of Oslo that captures the complexities of this region, which make the IRIS mission possible. Without these important elements we would be unable to fully interpret the IRIS spectra,” Alan Title, the IRIS principal investigator at the Advanced Technology Center (ATC) Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory in Palo Alto, California, also said back in January.

IRIS will be launching out of Vandenberg Air Force Base in California next month. The spacecraft will be launched aboard a Pegasus rocket, which will be deployed from the Orbital Sciences L-1011 carrier aircraft at an altitude of 39,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean.