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

Video On the Scene: In Gaza, Darkness Brings Dread and Death

Palestinians fear nighttime raids, many feel abandoned by outside world, VOA's Scott Bobb reports More

African Small Farmers Could Be Key to Ending Food Insecurity

Experts say providing access to microloans, crop insurance, better storage facilities, irrigation, road systems and market information could enable greater production More

University of Michigan Wins Solar Car Race

Squad guided its student-designed solar-powered vehicle to fifth consecutive time victory in eight-day bi-annual American Solar Challenge More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelteri
X
Scott Bobb
July 30, 2014 8:16 PM
Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video A Summer Camp for All the World

VIDEO: During workshops and social gatherings, the Global Youth Village summer camp encourages young people to cooperate and embrace their differences, while learning to communicate with people from other countries. VOA's Deborah Block has more.
Video

Video From Cantankerous Warlock to Incorruptible Priest, 'Harry Potter' Actor Embraces Diverse Roles

He’s perhaps best known as Mad Eye Moody, the whimsical wizard in the Harry Potter franchise. But character actor Brendan Gleeson's resume includes dozens of films, and he embraces all the characters he inhabits with equal passion. In an interview with VOA’s Penelope Poulou, Gleeson discussed his new drama "Calvary" and his secret to success.

AppleAndroid