A first for NASA's IRIS: Observing a gigantic eruption of solar material

May 31, 2014

A coronal mass ejection, or CME, surged off the side of the sun on May 9, 2014, and NASA's newest solar observatory caught it in extraordinary detail. This was the first CME observed by the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, which launched in June 2013 to peer into the lowest levels of the sun's atmosphere with better resolution than ever before. Watch the movie to see how a curtain of solar material erupts outward at speeds of 1.5 million miles per hour.

IRIS must commit to pointing at certain areas of the at least a day in advance, so catching a CME in the act involves some educated guesses and a little bit of luck.

"We focus in on active regions to try to see a flare or a CME," said Bart De Pontieu, the IRIS science lead at Lockheed Martin Solar & Astrophysics Laboratory in Palo Alto, California. "And then we wait and hope that we'll catch something. This is the first clear CME for IRIS so the team is very excited."

The IRIS imagery focuses in on material of 30,000 kelvins at the base, or foot points, of the CME. The line moving across the middle of the movie is the entrance slit for IRIS's spectrograph, an instrument that can split light into its many wavelengths – a technique that ultimately allows scientists to measure temperature, velocity and density of the solar material behind the slit.

The field of view for this imagery is about five Earths wide and about seven-and-a-half Earths tall.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.
A coronal mass ejection burst off the side of the sun on May 9, 2014. The giant sheet of solar material erupting was the first CME seen by NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS. The field of view seen here is about five Earths wide and about seven-and-a-half Earths tall. Credit: NASA/LMSAL/IRIS/SDO/Goddard

Lockheed Martin Solar & Astrophysics Laboratory designed the IRIS Observatory and manages the mission. NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, provides mission operations and ground data systems. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the Explorers Program for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C.

Explore further: Solar satellite arrives at Vandenberg AFB for launch

Related Stories

Solar satellite arrives at Vandenberg AFB for launch

April 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 no earlier ...

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 one to three days ...

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 the sun's dynamic ...

IRIS provides unprecedented images of sun

December 9, 2013

The region located between the surface of the sun and its atmosphere has been revealed as a more violent place than previously understood, according to images and data from NASA's newest solar observatory, the Interface Region ...

NASA's IRIS spots its largest solar flare

February 21, 2014

(Phys.org) —On Jan. 28, 2014, NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, witnessed its strongest solar flare since it launched in the summer of 2013. Solar flares are bursts of x-rays and light that stream out ...

Recommended for you

Galaxies show appetite for growth

August 4, 2015

The extent to which galaxies consume one another has been revealed in research. Findings from the study help to explain how galaxies such as the Milky Way were formed.

Will SETI's unprecedented new program finally find E.T.?

August 4, 2015

Stephen Hawking, Frank Drake and dozens of journalists gathered at the Royal Society in London last week to hear astronomers announce a ground-breaking new project to search for intelligent extraterrestrial life called "Breakthrough ...

Tracking a mysterious group of asteroid outcasts

August 4, 2015

High above the plane of our solar system, near the asteroid-rich abyss between Mars and Jupiter, scientists have found a unique family of space rocks. These interplanetary oddballs are the Euphrosyne (pronounced you-FROH-seh-nee) ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

ormondotvos
not rated yet Jun 01, 2014
If one of these happens to hit the earth's ozone layer, we could have a failure of MOST electrical distribution, transformers, generators.

Whee!

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.