News / Science & Technology

NASA Prepares for Next Solar Mission

NASA Mission to Probe Sun's Mysteriesi
June 24, 2013 9:18 PM
NASA, the U.S. space agency, is preparing to launch a mission to study the sun, specifically its mysterious interface region, the area between the sun's surface and its corona or upper atmosphere. VOA's Suzanne Presto in Washington has more about the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, which is set to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on June 27.
Suzanne Presto
The U.S. space agency NASA is preparing to launch a new mission to study the sun. The Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, will observe the way solar material gathers energy and heats up as it moves through the sun's lower atmosphere.

The upper layer of the sun's atmosphere, known as the corona, is thousands of times hotter than the sun's surface.  

Scientists want to figure out how that happens, so they are preparing a mission to study the sun's so-called interface region, the area between the sun's photosphere and its corona.  

Energy and plasma that flow through the interface region have an impact on us here on Earth. That region is the source of the sun's ultraviolet emission, which has an effect on our planet's climate, as well as the near-Earth space environment. Energy that seeps through the interface region drives solar wind.    

That's where NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, mission comes into play. IRIS is a small satellite with the ability to perform complex solar observations.

Alan Title, the IRIS principal investigator based at Lockheed Martin's Advanced Technology Center in California, spoke to reporters about the mission's importance.

"What we want to discover is what the basic physical processes are that transfer energy and material from the surface of the sun out to the outer atmosphere to the corona," he explained. "And, remember, the corona extends throughout the heliosphere. We live in the sun's outer atmosphere."

High-resolution images & high temperatures

IRIS will provide high-resolution images that even will show individual structures of energy as they rapidly stretch away from the sun. The U.S. space agency says IRIS images will be three-to-four times as detailed as those from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory.  

IRIS also will provide spectra, data that reveals information about multiple wavelengths of light at once.

NASA says IRIS will observe a range of temperatures from about 5,000 to 65,000 degrees Celsius, and up to about 10 million degrees Celsius during solar flares. But IRIS will not be observing the sun from up close.

"IRIS flies around the Earth so it only gets about 600 kilometers closer to the sun than we are here on Earth, and that's about 92 million miles away," said principal investigator Alan Title. "So it's really not very much closer to the sun."

The $181 million mission is set to last two years, but scientists say the solar explorer could function much longer.  

IRIS is set to launch aboard a Pegasus XL rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on June 26.

You May Like

Syrian Rebels Poised for Anti-Russia Collaboration

Forty-one insurgent groups issue joint statement vowing retaliation for Russian air offensives More

Political Maneuver Revives Export-Import Bank's Chances

Parliamentary tactic gets bill out of committee, but it faces opposition in the Senate More

Beijing Warns US on S. China Sea Patrols

Warning follows news reports Thursday that US military is planning to sail warships close to artificial islands Beijing has been aggressively building More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs