IRIS Space Observatory mission extended

September 20, 2016, Lockheed Martin
The Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph has been giving a zoomed-in view of the sun since its launch in 2013. The small and affordable observatory has revealed dazzling images and unprecedented data, like twisting energy in the sun’s chromosphere. Credit: Lockheed Martin

Delivering the most detailed images of the sun's lower atmosphere ever recorded from space, the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS), built and operated by Lockheed Martin for NASA, has received more time to deliver groundbreaking space science. A recent $19.4 million contract extends Lockheed Martin's support for the orbiting observatory through September 2018, with a further extension possible through September 2019.

"IRIS has taken more than 24 million images or spectral measurements of the sun since its launch three years ago, and it has led to more than 115 scientific papers," said Dr. Bart De Pontieu, IRIS science lead at Lockheed Martin's Advanced Technology Center. "In this new extension, IRIS will be able to study a wide range of phenomena, including the source regions of fast solar wind, a stream of charged particles that continuously emanates from the sun at speeds of 1,000 km/s and fills the space around the Earth."

Scientists at NASA, Lockheed Martin and other institutions around the world have used IRIS to make exciting discoveries about what causes the heating of the solar atmosphere and how solar flares are triggered and release magnetic energy. The observatory views only a small part of the sun at any time, but through careful planning by the IRIS science planning team, IRIS was able to catch nine of the largest flares (X-class) and almost 100 of the second largest class of flares (M-class) and numerous weaker C-class flares.

NASA continues to fund several solar science programs designed, built and operated by Lockheed Martin. Both the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly instrument onboard the Solar Dynamics Observatory and the Solar Optical Telescope onboard the Hinode satellite received extensions, as well. The ATC also has experience building instruments to study the Earth, a lineage that includes the Earth's new "selfie" camera, EPIC, and newer concepts to study carbon levels and other environmental phenomena.

The IRIS program will now move into a period studying the tail end of the solar activity cycle, which just went through a period of maximum activity. Some of the largest flares and most powerful coronal mass ejections occur during this phase of the solar cycle. In the next few years IRIS will also focus on:

  • Using IRIS observations for more specific computer models that reveal what heats the sun's chromosphere, a layer of the Sun's atmosphere that is responsible for most of the ultraviolet light that we receive on Earth.
  • Coordinated, highly complementary observations with a slew of ground-based telescopes that are coming online with powerful new instrumentation such as the German GREGOR telescope, the Swedish Solar Telescope in the Canary Islands and Big Bear Solar Observatory, California.
  • The first solar observing campaigns newly approved for the large, international radio-telescope in Chile called ALMA. Coordinated observations of ALMA and IRIS will provide a new window into what drives the dynamics and heating of the low solar atmosphere.

Explore further: IRIS spots plasma rain on sun's surface

Related Stories

IRIS spots plasma rain on sun's surface

August 8, 2016

On July 24, 2016, NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, captured a mid-level solar flare: a sudden flash of bright light on the solar limb – the horizon of the sun – as seen at the beginning of this video. ...

IRIS celebrates year two with ongoing scientific discoveries

June 29, 2015

On June 27, 2015, NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, mission will celebrate its second year in space. IRIS observations have advanced our understanding of what role the interface region, which lies between ...

Video: IRIS releases new imagery of Mercury transit

May 19, 2016

On May 9, 2016, a NASA solar telescope called the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, observed Mercury crossing in front of the sun—an astronomical phenomenon known as a Mercury transit. During the transit, ...

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 ...

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 ...

Recommended for you

Floodplain forests under threat

March 19, 2019

A team from the Institute of Forest Sciences at the University of Freiburg shows that the extraction of ground water for industry and households is increasingly damaging floodplain forests in Europe given the increasing intensity ...

Scientists discover common blueprint for protein antibiotics

March 19, 2019

A discovery by researchers at the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute (LA BioMed) has uncovered a common blueprint for proteins that have antimicrobial properties. This finding opens the door to design and development ...

Nanoscale Lamb wave-driven motors in nonliquid environments

March 19, 2019

Light driven movement is challenging in nonliquid environments as micro-sized objects can experience strong dry adhesion to contact surfaces and resist movement. In a recent study, Jinsheng Lu and co-workers at the College ...

0 comments

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.