Categories: AstronomyNASAsun

This Energy-Boosting Region In The Sun Will Have A New NASA Satellite Watching It

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 “space weather” that affects Earth.

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

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.

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

NASA 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).

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.

Source: NASA

Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell is the senior writer at Universe Today. She also works for Space.com, Space Exploration Network, the NASA Lunar Science Institute, NASA Astrobiology Magazine and LiveScience, among others. Career highlights include watching three shuttle launches, and going on a two-week simulated Mars expedition in rural Utah. You can follow her on Twitter @howellspace or contact her at her website.

Recent Posts

If Launched by 2028, a Spacecraft Could Catch up With Oumuamua in 26 Years

A new study by the Institute of Interstellar Studies (i4is) shows that with the right…

8 hours ago

The Moon’s Crust was Formed From a Frozen Slushy Magma

Scientists' detailed study of the Moon dates back to the Apollo missions when astronauts brought…

14 hours ago

Tom Cruise Movie’s Producers Aim to Add Film Studio to the Space Station in 2024

The production company that's playing a key role in a space movie project involving Tom…

15 hours ago

Even Tiny Mimas Seems to Have an Internal Ocean of Liquid Water

Data from the Cassini mission keeps fuelling discoveries. The latest discovery is that Saturn's tiny…

17 hours ago

Ice Peeks out of a Cliffside on Mars

The HiRISE (High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has captured another…

1 day ago

A new Kind of Supernova has Been Discovered

A new supernova discovery shows that Wolf-Rayet stars explode after all.

2 days ago