News / Science & Technology

NASA's IRIS Eyes Our Sun

The fully integrated spacecraft and science instrument for NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) mission is seen in a clean room at the Lockheed Martin Space Systems Sunnyvale, California facility in this undated NASA handout photo.
The fully integrated spacecraft and science instrument for NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) mission is seen in a clean room at the Lockheed Martin Space Systems Sunnyvale, California facility in this undated NASA handout photo.
Suzanne Presto
If you've ever stood beside a roaring fire, you know it can get pretty hot. And if you get too hot, you could just walk away, because the farther you are from a heat source, the cooler it is around you.

But that does not always hold true everywhere.   

The surface of the sun is about 6,000 degrees Celsius, but its upper atmosphere is about one million degrees hotter, even though it's farther from the sun's heat-generating core.

Scientist Jeffrey Newmark says it's a mystery.

"What causes this rise? How does the energy transfer from the surface - the cool surface - to this hot outer atmosphere? This is the question that IRIS, the science of IRIS, is going to address," he explained to reporters at a NASA briefing.

Newmark is the program scientist for IRIS, NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph. It's a small satellite that will observe the way solar material heats up as it rises through the sun's lower atmosphere. IRIS, with its ultraviolet telescope, will provide high-resolution images and even show individual towers of energy released by the sun. It will orbit our Earth as it studies our sun.

The mission

NASA scientists say this new mission will yield insights into solar activity that is believed to be linked to power outages here on Earth.

The IRIS mission began Thursday night, when an aircraft flying over the Pacific Ocean released Orbital Sciences' Pegasus XL rocket that carried NASA's newest solar observatory into space.  

The mission started 24 hours later than planned. Mission managers had to delay the launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California by one day because of a power outage at the base.      

Pete Worden, director of NASA's Ames Research Center in California, said in a pre-launch briefing that this twist underscored the importance of the IRIS mission.

"We believe that some - maybe a lot - of power outages actually have a lot to do with solar activity, so the better we can understand the physics going on, the better we can understand that activity, the better that we could potentially predict and mitigate some of these problems," he said.  

The sun's ultraviolet emissions are generated in the mysterious interface region. They affect our planet's climate and the space environment near Earth.

Wave of the Future

NASA's Worden says the IRIS mission also shows a new direction for the space agency.   

"It demonstrates, I think, the wave of the future that we're going to be doing a lot more with lower-cost, smaller missions, at the same time getting really Earth-shaking science," Worden said. "This is the first mission that will really tell us the detailed physics that's going on at the solar surface and the atmosphere above it."    

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

You May Like

Lebanese Media Unite to Support Palestinians in Gaza

Joint newscast billed as Arab world’s first unified news bulletin in support of Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip More

Photogallery Australian PM Alleges ‘Coverup’ at MH17 Crash Site

Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to Malaysia denies plane's black boxes were opened before they were handed over to Malaysian officials More

Despite Advances in AIDS Treatment, Stigma Lingers

Leading immunologist tells VOA that stigma is often what prevents those infected with disease from seeking treatment More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Formi
X
July 22, 2014 10:26 AM
Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.

AppleAndroid