This energy-boosting region in the Sun will have a new NASA satellite watching it

Jun 25, 2013 by Elizabeth Howell
IRIS will take a closer look at the lower parts of the sun’s atmosphere, which is producing the spectacular flare shown in this image. Credit: NASA&JAXA/Hinode

How does the sun's energy flow? Despite the fact that we live relatively close (93 million miles, or eight light-minutes) to this star, and that we have several spacecraft peering at it, we still know little about how energy transfers through the solar atmosphere.

NASA's next solar mission will launch Wednesday, June 26 (if all goes to plan) to try to learn a little bit more. It's called the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS), and it will zero in on a spot in the sun's lower atmosphere known as the "interface region." The zone only has a thickness of 3,000 to 6,000 miles and is seen as a key transfer point to the sun's incredibly hot corona (that you can see during total solar eclipses.)

"IRIS will extend our observations of the sun to a region that has historically been difficult to study," stated Joe Davila, IRIS project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "Understanding the interface region better improves our understanding of the whole corona and, in turn, how it affects the solar system."

Figuring out more about the interface region, NASA stated, will teach us a lot more about the "" that affects Earth.

Some of the energy in the interface region leaks out and powers the , which is a sort of rain of particles that leave the star. Some of them hit the Earth's and can produce auroras. Most of the sun's also flows from the interface region.

Technicians work on NASA’s Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) in a “clean room”, a specially designed facility intended to minimize contaminants on spacecraft before launch. Credit: Lockheed Martin

IRIS' images will be able to zero in on about 1 percent of the sun in a single go, with resolution of features of as small as 150 miles. The 400-pound satellite will orbit Earth in an orbit perpetually keeping it above the sunrise line, a spot that lets the satellite look at the sun continuously for eight months without the sun being obscured by Earth.

It'll also form part of a larger network of sun-staring satellites.

highlighted its Solar Dynamics Observatory and a joint mission it has with Japan, called Hinode, which both take images of the sun in high-definition. These other two observatories, however, look at different solar layers (specifically, the surface and the outer atmosphere).

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

With IRIS joining the fleet and looking at the interface region, it will provide a more complete picture.

"Relating observations from IRIS to other solar observatories will open the door for crucial research into basic, unanswered questions about the corona," stated Davila.

Explore further: NASA's IRIS mission readies for a new challenge

Related Stories

NASA's IRIS mission readies for a new challenge

May 22, 2013

(Phys.org) —The time draws near. NASA is getting ready to launch a new mission, a mission to observe a largely unexplored region of the solar atmosphere that powers its dynamic million-degree outer atmosphere and drives ...

Solar satellite arrives at Vandenberg AFB for launch

Apr 18, 2013

(Phys.org) —NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) satellite arrived at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Tuesday, April 16, to begin its final preparations for launch currently scheduled ...

NASA IRIS: Improving our view of the sun

May 29, 2013

In late June 2013, NASA will launch a new set of eyes to offer the most detailed look ever of the sun's lower atmosphere, called the interface region. This region is believed to play a crucial role in powering ...

NASA's IRIS mission to launch in June

Jun 04, 2013

Lying just above the sun's surface is an enigmatic region of the solar atmosphere called the interface region. A relatively thin region, just 3,000 to 6,000 miles thick, it pulses with movement: Zones of ...

NASA's IRIS spacecraft is fully integrated

Jan 19, 2013

NASA's next Small Explorer (SMEX) mission to study the little-understood lower levels of the sun's atmosphere has been fully integrated and final testing is underway.

NASA's STEREO detects a CME from the sun

May 17, 2013

On 5:24 a.m. EDT on May 17, 2013, the sun erupted with an Earth-directed coronal mass ejection or CME, a solar phenomenon that can send billions of tons of solar particles into space that can reach Earth ...

Recommended for you

Kazakh satellite to be launched into orbit

17 hours ago

Kazakhstan's first-ever Earth observation satellite is to be fired into orbit next week from the European spaceport in Kourou in French Guiana, launch company Arianespace said.

Habitable exoplanets are bad news for humanity

20 hours ago

Last week, scientists announced the discovery of Kepler-186f, a planet 492 light years away in the Cygnus constellation. Kepler-186f is special because it marks the first planet almost exactly the same size as Earth ...

First-of-its-kind NASA space-weather project

Apr 23, 2014

A NASA scientist is launching a one-to-two-year pilot project this summer that takes advantage of U.S. high-voltage power transmission lines to measure a phenomenon that has caused widespread power outages ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Habitable exoplanets are bad news for humanity

Last week, scientists announced the discovery of Kepler-186f, a planet 492 light years away in the Cygnus constellation. Kepler-186f is special because it marks the first planet almost exactly the same size as Earth ...

Professional and amateur astronomers join forces

(Phys.org) —Long before the term "citizen science" was coined, the field of astronomy has benefited from countless men and women who study the sky in their spare time. These amateur astronomers devote hours ...

Google+ boss leaving the company

The executive credited with bringing the Google+ social network to life is leaving the Internet colossus after playing a key role there for nearly eight years.

Facebook woos journalists with 'FB Newswire'

Facebook launched Thursday FB Newswire, billed as an online trove of real-time information for journalists and newsrooms to mine while reporting on events or crafting stories.