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Raumfahrt - NASA´s neuer Sonnen-Satellit IRIS

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Workers unload NASA's IRIS spacecraft from a truck at the processing facility at Vandenberg where the spacecraft will be readied for launch aboard an Orbital Sciences Pegasus XL rocket. Photo credit: VAFB/Randy Beaudoin
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NASA'S Newest Solar Satellite Arrives at Vandenberg AFB for Launch

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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 than May 28. IRIS will improve our understanding of how heat and energy move through the deepest levels of the sun’s atmosphere, thereby increasing our ability to forecast space weather. Following final checkouts, the IRIS spacecraft will be placed inside an Orbital Sciences Pegasus rocket. Deployment of the Pegasus from the L-1011 carrier aircraft is targeted for 7:27 p.m. PDT at an altitude of 39,000 feet at a location over the Pacific Ocean about 100 miles northwest of Vandenberg AFB off the central coast of California south of Big Sur.
“IRIS will contribute significantly to our understanding of the interface region between the sun's photosphere and corona,” said Joe Davila, IRIS mission scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “This region is crucial for understanding how the corona gets so hot.”
IRIS carries a single instrument, a multi-channel imaging spectrograph with an ultraviolet (UV) telescope that will help scientists better understand the physical processes in the sun’s interface region.
“With the high-resolution images from IRIS, scientists will be able to use advanced computer models to unravel how matter, light, and energy move from the sun’s 6,000 Kelvin surface to its million Kelvin corona,” said Eric Ianson, IRIS mission manager at NASA Goddard. “Scientists will be able to combine data from NASA’s IRIS and Solar Dynamics Observatory and the NASA/JAXA Hinode missions to obtain a more comprehensive understanding of the sun’s atmosphere.”
IRIS is a NASA Small Explorer mission. The program provides frequent flight opportunities for world-class scientific investigations from space using innovative, streamlined and efficient management approaches within the heliophysics and astrophysics areas.
NASA's Launch Services Program at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., is responsible for launch management. Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Technology Center Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory in Palo Alto, Calif., designed and built the IRIS spacecraft and instrument. NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., is responsible for mission operations and ground data systems.
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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, Calif. facility. The solar arrays are deployed in the configuration they will assume when in orbit. Credit: Lockheed Martin
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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.
Scheduled to launch in April 2013, the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) will make use of high-resolution images, data and advanced computer models to unravel how matter, light, and energy move from the sun’s 6,000 K (10,240 F / 5,727 C) surface to its million K (1.8 million F / 999,700 C) outer atmosphere, the corona. Such movement ultimately heats the sun's atmosphere to temperatures much hotter than the surface, and also powers solar flares and coronal mass ejections, which can have societal and economic impacts on Earth.
"This is the first time we'll be directly observing this region since the 1970s," says Joe Davila, IRIS project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "We're excited to bring this new set of observations to bear on the continued question of how the corona gets so hot."
A fundamentally mysterious region that helps drive heat into the corona, the lower levels of the atmosphere -- namely two layers called the chromosphere and the transition region -- have been notoriously hard to study. IRIS will be able to tease apart what's happening there better than ever before by providing observations to pinpoint physical forces at work near the surface of the sun.
The mission carries a single instrument: an ultraviolet telescope combined with an imaging spectrograph that will both focus on the chromosphere and the transition region. The telescope will see about one percent of the sun at a time and resolve that image to show features on the sun as small as 150 miles (241.4 km) across. The instrument will capture a new image every five to ten seconds, and spectra about every one to two seconds. Spectra will cover temperatures from 4,500 K to 10,000,000 K (7,640 F/4,227 C to 18 million F/10 million C), with images covering temperatures from 4,500 K to 65,000 K (116,500 F/64,730 C).
These unique capabilities will be coupled with state of the art 3-D numerical modeling on supercomputers, such as Pleiades, housed at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. Indeed, recent improvements in computer power to analyze the large amount of data is crucial to why IRIS will provide better information about the region than ever seen before.
“The interpretation of the IRIS spectra is a major effort coordinated by the IRIS science team that will utilize the full extent of the power of the most advanced computational resources in the world. It is this new capability, along with development of state of the art codes and numerical models by the University of Oslo that captures the complexities of this region, which make the IRIS mission possible. Without these important elements we would be unable to fully interpret the IRIS spectra,” said Alan Title, the IRIS principal investigator at the Advanced Technology Center (ATC) Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory in Palo Alto, Calif.
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Lockheed Martin Space Systems engineer Cathy Chou, integration and test lead for NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) observatory, inspects the IRIS solar telescope in a clean room at the company's Advanced Technology Center in Palo Alto, Calif. Credit: Lockheed Martin
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“NASA Ames is pleased to partner with Lockheed Martin on this exciting mission,” said John Marmie, assistant project manager at Ames. “The Mission Operations Center testing with the Observatory and Space/Ground Networks are progressing well, as we prepare to support launch and flight operations. Our daily interface with the IRIS observatory will enable our scientists a means to better understand the solar atmosphere.”
The IRIS observatory will launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., and will fly in a sun-synchronous polar orbit for continuous solar observations during a two-year mission.
IRIS was designed and built at the Lockheed Martin Space Systems ATC in Palo Alto, Calif., with support from the company’s Civil Space line of business and major partners Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and Montana State University. Ames is responsible for mission operations and the ground data system. The Norwegian Space Centre will provide the primary ground station at Svalbard, Norway, inside the Arctic Circle. The science data will be managed by the Joint Science Operations Center, run by Stanford and Lockheed Martin. Goddard oversees the SMEX program.
The NASA SMEX Program is designed to provide frequent, low-cost access to space for heliophysics and astrophysics missions using small to mid-sized spacecraft. The program also seeks to raise public awareness of NASA's space science missions through educational and public outreach activities.
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Quelle: NASA
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Update: 24.04.2013
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NASA Opens Media Accreditation for California Solar Mission Launch
 
 
WASHINGTON -- News media planning to cover the launch of NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) mission on June 26 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California should apply for accreditation by June 18. 
Deployment of IRIS from the Orbital Sciences L-1011 carrier aircraft aboard a Pegasus rocket is targeted for 10:27 p.m. EDT at an altitude of 39,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean. That location is approximately 100 miles northwest of Vandenberg off the central coast of California. 
News media can cover the prelaunch news conference and mission science briefing, which will be followed by an opportunity to see the L-1011 aircraft with the attached Pegasus rocket carrying IRIS. For launch, news media will be able to see the deployment of the Pegasus rocket from the L-1011 via live video provided by a NASA chase plane. A news conference will be held after the launch. 
IRIS is a NASA Small Explorer Mission to observe how solar material moves, gathers energy, and heats up as it travels through a little-understood region in the sun's lower atmosphere. This interface region between the sun's photosphere and corona powers its dynamic million-degree atmosphere and drives the solar wind. The interface region is where most of the sun's ultraviolet emission is generated that impacts the near-Earth space environment and Earth's climate.
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Update: 29.05.2013
 
 
NASA IRIS: Improving Our View Of the Sun
This image from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Hinode mission shows the lower regions of the sun’s atmosphere, the interface region, which a new mission called the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, will study in exquisite detail. Where previous missions have been able to image material at only a few predetermined temperatures in this region, IRIS will observe a wide range of temperatures from 5,000 kelvins to 65,000 kelvins (8,540 F to 116,540 F), and up to 10 million kelvins (about 18 million F) during solar flares. Its images will resolve structures down to 150 miles across. Credit: JAXA/Hinode
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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 million-degree atmosphere, the corona. The Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph or IRIS mission will provide the best resolution so far of the widest range of temperatures for of the interface region, an area that has historically been difficult to study.

"This region is crucial for understanding how the corona gets so hot,” said Joe Davila, IRIS project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "For the first time, we will have the capability to observe it at fundamental physical scale sizes and see details that have previously been hidden."

IRIS’s capabilities are uniquely tailored to unravel the interface region by providing both high-resolution images and a kind of data known as spectra.

For its high-resolution images, IRIS will capture data on about one percent of the sun at a time. While these are relatively small snapshots, IRIS will be able to see very fine features, as small as 150 miles across.

“We have some great space observatories currently looking at the sun,” said Bart DePontieu, the IRIS science lead at Lockheed Martin in Palo Alto, Calif. “But when it comes to the interface region, we’ve never been able to resolve individual structures. We have been able only to see conglomerates of various structures. Now we will finally be able to observe the details.”

IRIS’s images will be three to four times as detailed as the images from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory – though SDO can observe the whole sun at once. SDO’s wavelengths are not tailored, however, to see the interface region. Scientists can use IRIS observations to hone in on smaller details while working with the larger instruments, such as SDO or the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Hinode, to capture images of the entire sun. Together, the observatories will explore how the corona works and impacts Earth – SDO and Hinode monitoring the solar surface and outer atmosphere, with IRIS watching the region in between.Ultraviolet images look at only one wavelength of light at a time, but IRIS will also provide spectra, a kind of data that can show information about many wavelengths of light at once. Spectrographs split the sun’s light into its various wavelengths and measure how much of any given wavelength is present. This is then portrayed on a graph showing spectral "lines" – taller lines correspond to wavelengths in which the sun emits relatively more radiation.

Each spectral line also corresponds to a given temperature, so this provides information about how much material of a particular temperature is present. The images from IRIS' telescope will record observations of material at specific temperatures, ranging from 5,000 kelvins to 65,000 kelvins (8,540 F to 116,540 F) -- and up to 10 million kelvins (about 18 million F) during solar flares -- a range best suited to observe material on the sun's surface and in the interface region.

“By looking at spectra of material in these temperature ranges, we can also diagnose velocity and perhaps density of the material, too,” said De Pontieu.

The IRIS instrument will capture a new image every five to 10 seconds, and spectra about once every two seconds. These unique capabilities will be coupled with state-of-the-art 3-D numerical modeling sophisticated enough to deal with the complexity of this region. The modeling makes use of supercomputers at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffet Field, Calif.

In combination, IRIS’ resolution, fast imaging rate, wide temperature coverage and computer modeling will enable scientists for the first time to track solar material as it is accelerated and heated in the interface region and thus help pinpoint where and how the plasma gains energy and heat along its travels through the lower levels of the solar atmosphere.

IRIS was developed by Lockheed Martin as a NASA Small Explorer mission. The NASA Explorer Program is designed to provide frequent, low-cost access to space for heliophysics and astrophysics missions using small- to mid-sized spacecraft. Goddard manages the Explorer Program for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Major contributions for IRIS were provided by Lockheed Martin Sensing and Exploration Systems, NASA’s Ames Research Center, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Montana State University, Stanford University, the Norwegian Space Centre and the University of Oslo.
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Quelle: NASA
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Update: 30.05.2013
NASA Hosts June 4 Media Briefing on Next Solar Mission Launch
 
 
WASHINGTON -- NASA will host a news briefing at 1 p.m. EDT, Tuesday, June 4, about the upcoming launch of the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) mission. The briefing will be held at NASA Headquarters at 300 E St. SW in Washington and air live on NASA Television and the agency's website.

IRIS is scheduled to launch June 26 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

IRIS is a NASA Small Explorer Mission to observe how solar material moves, gathers energy, and heats up as it travels through a little-understood region in the sun's lower atmosphere. This interface region between the sun's photosphere and corona powers its dynamic million-degree atmosphere and drives the solar wind. The region is the origin of most of the ultraviolet solar emission that impacts the near-Earth space environment and Earth's climate.

The panelists for the briefing are:
-- Jeffrey Newmark, IRIS program scientist, NASA Headquarters, Washington
-- Alan Title, IRIS principal investigator, Lockheed Martin's Advanced Technology Center, Palo Alto, Calif.
-- Gary Kushner, IRIS program manager, Lockheed Martin's Advanced Technology Center, Palo Alto, Calif.
-- John Marmie, IRIS assistant project manager, NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
Quelle: NASA
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Update: 5.06.2013
 
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 different temperature and density are scattered throughout, while energy and heat course through the solar material.
Understanding how the energy travels through this region – energy that helps heat the upper layer of the atmosphere, the corona, to temperatures of 1 million kelvins (about 1.8 million F), some thousand times hotter than the sun’s surface itself – is the goal of NASA’s Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, scheduled to launch on June 26, 2013, from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base.
“IRIS will extend our observations of the sun to a region that has historically been difficult to study,” said Joe Davila, IRIS project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “Understanding the interface region better improves our understanding of the whole corona and, in turn, how it affects the solar system.”
Scientists wish to understand the interface region in exquisite detail, because energy flowing through this region has an effect on so many aspects of near-Earth space. For one thing, despite the intense amount of energy deposited into the interface region, only a fraction leaks through, but this fraction drives the solar wind, the constant stream of particles that flows out to fill the entire solar system. The interface region is also the source of most of the sun’s ultraviolet emission, which impacts both the near-Earth space environment and Earth’s climate.
IRIS’s capabilities are uniquely tailored to unravel the interface region by providing both high-resolution images and a kind of data known as spectra. For its high-resolution images, IRIS will capture data on about 1 percent of the sun at a time. While these are relatively small snapshots, IRIS will be able to see very fine features, as small as 150 miles across.
“Previous observations suggest there are structures in the solar atmosphere just 100 or 150 miles across, but 100,000 miles long,” said Alan Title, the principal investigator for IRIS at Lockheed Martin in Palo Alto, Calif. “Imagine giant jets, like the huge fountains you see in Las Vegas. Except these jets have a footprint the size of Los Angeles, and are long enough and fast enough that they would zoom around Earth in 20 seconds. We have seen hints of these structures, but never with the high resolution or the information about velocity, temperature and density that IRIS will provide.”
The velocity, temperature and density information will be provided by IRIS’ spectrograph. While ultraviolet images look at only one wavelength of light at a time, spectrographs show information about many wavelengths of light at once. Spectrographs split the sun’s light into its various wavelengths and measure how much of any given wavelength is present. This is then portrayed on a graph showing spectral “lines.” Taller lines correspond to wavelengths in which the sun emits relatively more light. Analysis of the spectral lines can also provide velocity, temperature and density information, key information when trying to track how energy and heat moves through the region.
Not only does IRIS provide state-of-the-art observations to look at the interface region, it makes uses of advanced computing to help interpret what it sees. Indeed, interpreting the light flowing out of the interface region could not be done well prior to the advent of today’s supercomputers because, in this area of the sun, photons of light bounce around so much that it is difficult to understand the path the photon traveled.
“When you observe the interface region, there is no intuitive approach to understanding the light’s path from the sun’s surface and that’s been a major stumbling block,” said Bart De Pontieu, the IRIS science lead at Lockheed Martin. “We’re trying to understand something that’s hidden in a fog – but now, thanks to the enormous advance of computers and sophisticated numerical models, the fog is lifting.”
This modeling of the IRIS data takes place on cutting-edge supercomputers at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. Moreover, science teams at Lockheed Martin and the University of Oslo in Norway have worked over the last year to create and refine the models to interpret the dominant processes expected to be at work in the interface region.
For its launch at the end of June, IRIS will take flight using a Pegasus XL rocket, carried aloft by an Orbital Sciences L-1011 aircraft from Vandenberg. IRIS weighs 400 pounds, and upon deployment, will extend its solar panels to reach 12 feet across. IRIS will travel in a polar, sun-synchronous orbit, traveling around Earth at the globe’s sunrise line, ranging from approximately 390 miles to 420 miles above Earth's surface. Each orbit will take IRIS around 97 minutes to complete. This orbit was selected because it provides nearly eight months of eclipse-free sun viewing and also maximizes IRIS’ ability to downlink data, by traveling over several ground receivers.
After launch, the IRIS team will perform post-flight checkouts for about 60 days before the official science campaign begins. Once the campaign starts, IRIS will join a host of other spacecraft currently observing the sun and its effects on Earth. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory and the joint NASA-Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Hinode, for example, both capture high-resolution images of the sun, but focusing on different layers of the sun. Together, the observatories will explore how the corona and solar wind are powered – Hinode and SDO monitoring the solar surface and outer atmosphere, with IRIS watching the region in between.
“Relating observations from IRIS to other solar observatories will open the door for crucial research into basic, unanswered questions about the corona,” said Davila.
Answering such fundamental physics questions about the sun’s atmosphere has applications outside of simply understanding the sun, as well. Explosions in the corona can send radiation and solar particles toward Earth, interfering with satellites, causing power grid failures and disrupting GPS services. By knowing more about what causes such solar eruptions, scientists can improve their ability to forecast such space weather. Moreover, the better we understand this closest star, the better we can understand how other stars are energized as well.
Goddard manages IRIS, a NASA Small Explorer Program mission. IRIS’ launch is managed by NASA's Launch Services Program at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Fla. Lockheed Martin's Advanced Technology Center designed and built the IRIS spacecraft and instrument. Ames provides mission operations and ground data systems. The Norwegian Space Centre is providing regular downlinks of science data. Other contributors include the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass., Montana State University in Bozeman, Mont., Stanford University in Stanford, Calif., and the University of Oslo in Norway.
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Starten wird IRIS mit Pegasus:
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.Update: 12.06.2013 
On Wednesday, June 26, NASA’s newest mission, the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph or IRIS, will launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. IRIS will take flight using a Pegasus XL rocket, carried aloft by an Orbital Sciences L-1011 aircraft from Vandenberg. This exciting launch will broadcast live at the NASA Ames Visitor Center at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
Registrations for attendance are available now!
Tickets are free and are first-come, first-serve. Space is limited and only ticketed guests will be admitted.
IRIS will advance our understanding of the complex region immediately above the sun’s surface that powers its dynamic, million-degree atmosphere, drives its solar winds, and is the source of the ultraviolet emissions that impact Earth’s climate.
IRIS' unique capabilities will be coupled with state of the art 3-D numerical modeling on supercomputers, such as Pleiades, housed at NASA Ames. NASA Ames also will provide IRIS mission operations and ground data systems. 
Doors will open at 5 p.m. PDT with a short program featuring special keynote speakers followed by a live NASA TV broadcast and commentary with Ames' IRIS mission personnel. Launch is scheduled for 7:27 p.m. PDT. Launches are subject to change. 
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Quelle: NASA / Orbital
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Update: 13.06.2013
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Sunshine, lollipops, and chromospheres: NASA prepares to launch IRIS into the sun

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In a hangar at Vandenberg Air Force Base, a solar observatory named IRIS is preparing for launch.
On June 26, NASA's "Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph" spacecraft is set to be lifted into orbit on the nose of a Pegasus XL rocket, just as Greek mythology predicted.
Like a transistor in the sun, IRIS will go on to fill a "crucial gap in our ability to advance studies of the sun-to-Earth connection," NASA explains on its website.
IRIS will open a new window of discovery by tracing the flow of energy and plasma through the chromospheres and transition region into the sun's corona using spectrometry and imaging. 
Or, put another way by NASA:
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 million-degree atmosphere, the corona. The Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph or IRIS mission will provide the best resolution so far of the widest range of temperatures for of the interface region, an area that has historically been difficult to study.
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Update:19.06.2013
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MSU work set to launch June 26 on NASA mission
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Montana State University faculty and students who designed and tested optics for a NASA solar mission are counting down the days when their work will head into space.
The Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) is scheduled to launch at 8:27 p.m. Mountain time Wednesday, June 26, from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The launch could be postponed at the last minute, but the MSU scientists are inviting the public to watch with them at the planned time. The free event will run from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. in the planetarium at MSU’s Museum of the Rockies.
“It’s very exciting to see the work of so many people come together,” said Charles Kankelborg, leader of the IRIS team at MSU. “A rocket launch like this is such a focal point and such a milestone.
“You know that things usually go just fine, but it’s always very stressful, and you always worry,” Kankelborg added. “It’s always very exciting. The only satisfying way to enjoy it is to hold a party and invite a lot of people.”
NASA will also offer the public several opportunities to follow the launch. Extensive prelaunch and launch day coverage will be available on NASA’s home page.  To view the IRIS webcast and launch blog and learn more about the mission, visit http://www.nasa.gov/iris.
MSU became involved with IRIS in 2007 after Kankelborg attended a solar physics meeting in Honolulu and long-time colleagues at Lockheed Martin approached him about collaborating. Kankelborg had come to MSU in 1996 from Stanford University where he earned his doctorate in physics. In 1998, he moved to Maryland and spent eight months at the Goddard Space Flight Center, which housed the operations center for another solar mission called the Transition Region and Coronal Explorer (TRACE). During that time, before Kankelborg returned to Bozeman, TRACE was launched.
In the past six years, more than a dozen people at MSU have helped design and test optics that are part of the IRIS mission to answer some of the biggest questions about the sun, Kankelborg said.
Besides Kankelborg, the team includes program manager Larry Springer who worked at Lockheed Martin before coming to MSU. Other current or past participants are professor Joe Shaw, postdoctoral researchers Nathan Pust and Sarah Jaeggli, Keith Mashburn, Christy Dunn, Janet Glenn and Erica Lastifka. Angela Des Jardins, Randy Larimer and Joey Key in the Montana Space Grant Consortium organized education and outreach efforts, such as the recent National Student Solar Spectrograph competition held at MSU.
Stefan Eccles was an undergraduate student in physics when he joined the team, Kankelborg said. By the time he graduated in 2011, he had become such an expert at testing optics that he was invited to do the same during a summer at Lockheed Martin.
One of the biggest mysteries about the sun is why the corona is millions of degrees Celsius when a layer closer to the sun is much cooler, Kankelborg said. That layer, the photosphere, averages 6,000 degrees Celsius.
IRIS will focus on the layer between the photosphere and corona – the chromosphere. Expected to give the most detailed look ever of the sun’s lower atmosphere or interface region, IRIS will observe how solar material moves, gathers energy and heats up as it travels through this largely unexplored region of the solar atmosphere. The interface region, located between the sun’s visible surface and upper atmosphere, is where most of the sun’s ultraviolet emission is generated. These emissions affect the Earth’s climate and can interfere with satellite communications and the transmission of power.
IRIS will carry an eight-inch ultraviolet telescope, a spectrograph that contains MSU optics, and a “bus” carrying transmitters and batteries. It will fly 390 to 420 miles above Earth and pass over the poles every 90 minutes. The telescope is tentatively scheduled to open for the first time on July 17. The occasion, called “First Light,” is the next big thing after the launch, Kankelborg said.
Once the telescope opens, it will transmit ultraviolet light to the spectrograph. The spectrograph will then split invisible light into wavelengths like a prism splits visible light. This allows scientists to identify physical processes and measure such things as solar temperatures, velocity and composition. At the same time, IRIS will take high-resolution photos of the sun. Scientists will then match the photos and images and analyze the results.
 “IRIS data will fill a crucial gap in our understanding of the solar interface region upon joining our fleet of heliophysics spacecraft,” Jeffrey Newmark, NASA’S IRIS program scientist, said in a NASA press release. “For the first time, we will have the necessary observations for understanding how energy is delivered to the million-degree outer solar corona and how the base of the solar wind is driven.”
The satellite is the first mission designed to use an ultraviolet telescope to obtain high-resolution images and spectra every few seconds and provide observations of areas as small as 150 miles across the sun.
“Previous observations suggest there are structures in this region of the solar atmosphere 100 to 150 miles wide, but 100,000 miles long,” Alan Title, IRIS principal investigator at Lockheed Martin, said in the NASA release. “Imagine giant jets like huge fountains that have a footprint the size of Los Angeles and are long enough and fast enough to circle Earth in 20 seconds.
“IRIS will provide our first high-resolution views of these structures along with information about their velocity, temperature and density,” Title said.
IRIS is designed to operate for two years, but if it’s like TRACE, it will operate much longer, Kankelborg said. TRACE was launched in 1998 and retired in 2010. It was designed to operate for eight months.
IRIS and TRACE are both part of NASA’s Small Explorer (SMEX) Mission. The goal of the program is to provide frequent flight opportunities for world-class scientific investigations from space using innovative and efficient management approaches.
“It’s an exciting program to work with,” Kankelborg said. “The Small Explorer missions build up more quickly and generally they are lower-cost operations where you can get a lot of science done for relatively little money.”
IRIS was about a $100 million mission. By comparison, interplanetary missions can cost more than $1 billion, Kankelborg said. He noted that there are cheaper interplanetary missions, such as the upcoming Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN). That mission is projected to cost half a billion.
Quelle: MSU
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Update: 22.06.2013
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Update: 23.06.2013
The Orbital Sciences Corp. team monitors the Pegasus XL rocket at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
 
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Update: 26.06.2013
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Launch of NASA's New Solar Mission Rescheduled to June 27
 
 
WASHINGTON -- The launch of NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) mission is being delayed one day to 7:27 p.m. PDT (10:27 p.m. EDT) Thursday, June 27, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Live NASA Television launch coverage begins at 6 p.m. PDT. 
Because of a significant power outage at Vandenberg earlier this week, certain Western Range facilities will not be ready to support the original June 26 launch date. Range officials believe they will be able to restore power to the affected facilities in time to support a launch Thursday evening. Managers will assess the situation at the Launch Readiness Review Wednesday. 
The launch of IRIS on an Orbital Sciences Corporation Pegasus XL rocket is targeted for the middle of a five-minute window. 
IRIS is a NASA Small Explorer Mission to observe how solar material moves, gathers energy and heats up as it travels through a little-understood region in the sun's lower atmosphere. This interface region between the sun's photosphere and corona powers its dynamic million-degree atmosphere and drives the solar wind. 
The drop of the air-launched Pegasus from Orbital's L-1011 carrier aircraft will occur over the Pacific Ocean at an altitude of 39,000 feet, about 100 miles northwest of Vandenberg off the central coast of California, south of Big Sur. 
The IRIS News Center at Kennedy's Vandenberg Resident Office may be reached between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. at 805-605-3051. 
Quelle: NASA
 
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Update: 26.06.2013 / 21.00 MESZ
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Update; 27.06.2013
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Update: 30.06.2013
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Orbital Successfully Launches NASA's IRIS Satellite Aboard Pegasus Rocket

-- Latest Pegasus Mission Is 28th Consecutive Successful Launch Over 16-Year Period --

-- Company’s Air-Launched Rocket Accurately Deploys NASA’s Newest Heliophysics Science
 Satellite Into Low-Earth Orbit --

(Dulles, VA 27 June 2013) -- Orbital Sciences Corporation (NYSE: ORB) announced today that its Pegasus® rocket successfully launched the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) satellite for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The IRIS spacecraft was deployed into its targeted orbit approximately 400 miles above the Earth and early results confirm that the satellite is operating as anticipated at this stage of its mission.

The launch of the Pegasus rocket originated from Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB), California when Orbital’s L-1011 “Stargazer” carrier aircraft took off from the airfield at approximately 6:30 p.m. (PDT). Following a one-hour preplanned positioning flight, the Pegasus rocket was released at approximately 40,000 feet from Orbital’s L-1011 “Stargazer” carrier aircraft at 7:27 p.m. (PDT). After a 13-minute powered flight sequence, Pegasus launched the 440-pound IRIS satellite into its polar, sun-synchronous Earth orbit. 

“The Pegasus rocket carried out another successful mission for NASA today, extending its record of consecutive successful missions to 28 over a 16-year period,” said Mr. Ron Grabe, Orbital’s Executive Vice President and General Manager of its Launch Systems Group. “We are proud of our launch team and are pleased to have contributed to a successful beginning of this important NASA heliophysics science mission.”

The launch of IRIS marks the 45th overall mission for the Pegasus program. Its launch history now includes 42 launches to orbit, which collectively have deployed more than 80 satellites for Earth and space science missions overseen by NASA; military and technology demonstration spacecraft for the U.S. Department of Defense; and communications and imaging satellites for commercial customers. Pegasus technology has also been used to launch three hypersonic flight experiments in Earth’s stratosphere for NASA’s HyperX program. 

IRIS is a NASA Small Explorer (SMEX) mission designed to observe how solar material moves, gathers energy and heats up as it travels through a little-understood region in the Sun’s lower atmosphere. This interface region between the Sun’s photosphere and corona powers its dynamic million-degree atmosphere and drives the solar wind. The interface region also is where most of the Sun’s ultraviolet emission is generated that impacts the near-Earth space environment and Earth’s climate.

About the Pegasus Rocket

Pegasus is the world’s leading launch system for the deployment of small satellites into low-Earth orbit. Its patented air-launch system, in which the rocket is launched from beneath Orbital’s “Stargazer” L-1011 carrier aircraft over the ocean, reduces cost and provides customers with unparalleled flexibility to operate from virtually anywhere on Earth with minimal ground support requirements. It is the world’s only small space launch vehicle that is certified with NASA’s Payload Risk Category 3, which the space agency reserves for its highest value space missions.

About Orbital

Orbital develops and manufactures small- and medium-class rockets and space systems for commercial, military and civil government customers. The company’s primary products are satellites and launch vehicles, including low-Earth orbit, geosynchronous-Earth orbit and planetary spacecraft for communications, remote sensing, scientific and defense missions; human-rated space systems for Earth-orbit, lunar and other missions; ground- and air-launched rockets that deliver satellites into orbit; and missile defense systems that are used as interceptor and target vehicles. Orbital also provides satellite subsystems and space-related technical services to government agencies and laboratories.

Quelle: Orbital

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Update: 1.07.2013

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A winged Pegasus rocket lifted a compact solar observatory into orbit around Earth's poles Thursday, kicking off a $181 million mission to shed light on a major mystery: what heats up the sun's outer atmosphere to extreme temperatures and how that, in turn, affects Earth's space weather.
NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, spacecraft will focus on the dynamic zone between the sun's 6,000-degree visible surface -- the photosphere -- and the tenuous corona, which is somehow heated to more than a million degrees over a span of a few thousand miles.
An Orbital Sciences Pegasus XL rocket carrying a new sun-study satellite falls away from the company's carrier jet moments before first stage ignition. (Credit: NASA TV)
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Scientists hope to gain insights into the energy transport mechanisms that drive the solar wind -- the supersonic stream of atomic particles blasted away from the sun -- solar flares and explosive eruptions known as coronal mass ejections that occasionally disrupt power grids, satellite operations and communications on Earth.
"What we want to discover is what the basic physical processes are that transfer energy and material from the surface of the sun to the outer atmosphere of the sun, the corona," Alan Title, IRIS principal investigator at Lockheed Martin's Advanced Technology Center, told reporters before launch.
"The visible surface (is) the place where virtually all of the light that leaves the sun leaves from. Immediately above that, the temperature rises to the million-degree corona. How that happens is a mystery. What are the processes that occur there?"
Making the program's 42nd flight, the Orbital Sciences Pegasus XL rocket was carried aloft from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., by an L-1011 carrier jet.
The Orbital Sciences "Stargazer" jet carried the 51,000-pound rocket to a pre-determined drop point over the Pacific Ocean and, after final tests were completed, released the Pegasus at a planned altitude of 39,000 feet at 10:27 p.m. EDT (GMT-4; 7:27 p.m. local time).
A few seconds later, 300 feet below the carrier jet and gliding southward at about slightly more than 80 percent the speed of sound, the Pegasus XL's first stage solid-fuel motor ignited with a rush of exhaust and the spacecraft quickly shot away toward space.
The solid-fuel first-stage motor of the Pegasus XL rocket roars to life above the Pacific Ocean, pushing the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, spacecraft toward orbit. (Credit: NASA TV)
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All three stages of the Pegasus XL rocket appeared to operate normally and about 13 minutes after launch, telemetry indicated the 403-pound IRIS spacecraft had been released into an orbit tilted 98 degrees to the equator with a high point of about 420 miles and a low point of some 385 miles.
"We're thrilled. We're very excited," said Launch Director Tim Dunn. "The spacecraft, we've made initial contact with it (through a NASA communications satellite). We've gotten good data back. The solar arrays did begin to deploy and everything is proceeding right on track."
It will take engineers about two months to check out the spacecraft's systems, calibrate its instruments and begin routine science observations. The trajectory was designed to ensure about eight months of uninterrupted observations each year.
The solar powered IRIS spacecraft is equipped with an 8-inch telescope and a multi-channel imaging spectrograph that will study ultraviolet emissions from the corona and the interface between it and the sun's visible-light surface.
Title said IRIS has "about a factor of 10 higher resolution than any other instrument that has explored this region and, even more importantly, it's about a factor of 20 faster. So it can take images about once a second. This is critical because the processes that occur in this part of the atmosphere happen very, very fast."
"Previous observations suggest there are structures in this region of the solar atmosphere 100 to 150 miles wide, but 100,000 miles long," he said. "Imagine giant jets like huge fountains that have a footprint the size of Los Angeles and are long enough and fast enough to circle Earth in 20 seconds. IRIS will provide our first high-resolution views of these structures along with information about their velocity, temperature and density."
IRIS data will complement observations by the much larger, and more expensive, Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft.
"IRIS almost acts as a microscope to SDO's telescope," Hall said in a NASA overview. "It's going to look in closely and it's going to look at that specific region to see how the changes in matter and energy occur in this region. It's going to collectively bring us a more complete view of the sun."
Quelle: CBS
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Update: 4.07.2013
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Frams: NASA-Start-Video
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Update: 19.07.2013
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Telescope Door on IRIS Opens
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Today at 11:14 pm PDT (2:14 pm EDT) the IRIS Lockheed Martin instrument team successfully opened the door on NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, which launched June 27, 2013, aboard a Pegasus XL rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.
A 60-day check out period began at launch. The first 30 days, which ends July 27, consists of tests and spacecraft system checks. The team will use the remaining 30 days for initial observing runs to fine tune instrument observations. If all is nominal, the team plans to begin normal science mode by August 26.
All data will be available to scientists and the public as soon as the mission begins science operations. The team is looking forward to receiving high-resolution images and spectra soon after first light.
In its first major milestone since launch, the IRIS team opened the telescope door on July 17, 2013. The telescope door is the circular white object on the far left of this graphic. Image Credit: NASA Goddard.
Quelle: NASA
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Update: 25.07.2013
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NASA will host a media teleconference at 1 p.m. EDT Thursday, July 25, to present the first images from NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS), which was launched June 27 on a mission to study the sun.
After its telescope door opened July 17, IRIS's imaging spectrograph began to observe the sun in exceptional detail. IRIS is targeting a region of the sun that is only now possible to observe in detail: the lowest layers of the sun's atmosphere, or interface region, which powers the sun's million-degree atmosphere and drives the solar wind.
The panelists for the briefing are:
-- John Grunsfeld, associate administrator, Science Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters, Washington
-- S. Pete Worden, director, NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
-- Alan Title, IRIS principal investigator, Lockheed Martin's Advanced Technology Center, Palo Alto, Calif.
-- Gary Kushner, IRIS project manager, Lockheed Martin's Advanced Technology Center, Palo Alto, Calif.
-- Bart DePontieu, IRIS science lead, Lockheed Martin's Advanced Technology Center, Palo Alto, Calif.
Quelle: NASA
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. Update: 26.07.2013 - NASA-Teleskop IRIS bietet ersten Blick auf geheimnisvolle Atmosphäre der Sonne
These two images show a section of the sun as seen by NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, on the right and NASA's SDO on the left. The IRIS image provides scientists with unprecedented detail of the lowest parts of the sun's atmosphere, known as the interface region.
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The moment when a telescope first opens its doors represents the culmination of years of work and planning -- while simultaneously laying the groundwork for a wealth of research and answers yet to come. It is a moment of excitement and perhaps even a little uncertainty. On July 17, 2013, the international team of scientists and engineers who supported and built NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, all lived through that moment. As the spacecraft orbited around Earth, the door of the telescope opened to view the mysterious lowest layers of the sun's atmosphere and the results thus far are nothing short of amazing. The data is crisp and clear, showing unprecedented detail of this little-observed region.
"These beautiful images from IRIS are going to help us understand how the sun's lower atmosphere might power a host of events around the sun," said Adrian Daw, the mission scientist for IRIS at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "Anytime you look at something in more detail than has ever been seen before, it opens up new doors to understanding. There's always that potential element of surprise."
As the telescope door opened on July 17, 2013, IRIS’s single instrument began to observe the sun in exceptional detail. IRIS’s first images showed a multitude of thin, fibril-like structures that have never been seen before, revealing enormous contrasts in density and temperature occur throughout this region even between neighboring loops that are only a few hundred miles apart. The images also show spots that rapidly brighten and dim, which provide clues to how energy is transported and absorbed throughout the region.
The IRIS images of fine structure in the interface region will help scientists track how magnetic energy contributes to heating in the sun’s atmosphere. Scientists need to observe the region in exquisite detail, because the energy flowing through it powers the upper layer of the sun’s atmosphere, the corona, to temperatures greater than 1 million kelvins (about 1.8 million F), almost a thousand times hotter than the sun's surface itself.
IRIS is a NASA Small Explorer mission that launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., on June 27, 2013. IRIS's capabilities are uniquely tailored to unravel the interface region. Understanding the interface region is important because it forms the ultraviolet emission that impacts near-Earth space and Earth’s climate. Energy traveling through the region also helps drive the solar wind, which during extreme space weather events near Earth can affect satellites, power grids, and global positioning systems, or GPS.
Designed to research the interface region in more detail than has ever been done before, IRIS's instrument is a combination of an ultraviolet telescope and what's called a spectrograph. Light from the telescope is split into two components. The first provides high-resolution images, capturing data on about one percent of the sun at a time. While these are relatively small snapshots, the images can resolve very fine features, as small as 150 miles across.
While the images are of one wavelength of light at a time, the second component is the spectrograph that provides information about many wavelengths of light at once. The instrument splits the sun's light into its various wavelengths and measures how much of any given wavelength is present. This information is then portrayed on a graph showing spectral "lines." Taller lines correspond to wavelengths in which the sun emits relatively more light. Analysis of the spectral lines can also provide velocity, temperature and density, key information when trying to track how energy and heat moves through the region.
"The quality of images and spectra we are receiving from IRIS is amazing. This is just what we were hoping for," said Alan Title, IRIS principal investigator at the Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Center Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory in Palo Alto, Calif. "There is much work ahead to understand what we're seeing, but the quality of the data will enable us to do that."
Not only does IRIS provide state-of-the-art observations to look at the interface region, it makes uses of advanced computing to help interpret what it sees. Indeed, interpreting the light flowing out of the interface region could not be done well prior to the advent of today's supercomputers because, in this area of the sun, the transfer and conversion of energy from one form to another is not understood.
The IRIS mission has long-term implications for understanding the genesis of space weather near Earth. Understanding how energy and solar material move through the interface region could help scientists improve forecasts for the kinds of events that can disrupt Earth technologies.
The IRIS Observatory was designed and the mission managed by Lockheed Martin. The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass., built the telescope. Montana State University in Bozeman, Mont. designed the spectrograph. NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., provides mission operations and ground data systems. Goddard manages the Small Explorer Program for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C. The Norwegian Space Centre is providing regular downlinks of science data. Other contributors include the University of Oslo in Norway and Stanford University in Stanford, Calif.
Quelle: NASA
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Update: 8.12.2013
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Quelle: Lockheed Martin
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Update: 9.11.2013
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IRIS Provides Unprecedented Images of Sun
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The fine detail in images of prominences in the sun's atmosphere from NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrometer – such as the red swirls shown here – are challenging the way scientists understand such events.
Image Credit: NASA/LMSAL/IRIS
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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 Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS.
Solar observatories look at the sun in layers. By capturing light emitted by atoms of different temperatures, they can focus in on different heights above the sun's surface extending well out into the solar atmosphere, the corona. On June 27, 2013, IRIS, was launched, to study what's known as the interface region – a layer between the sun's surface and corona that previously was not well observed.
Over its first six months, IRIS has thrilled scientists with detailed images of the interface region, finding even more turbulence and complexity than expected. IRIS scientists presented the mission's early observations at a press conference at the Fall American Geophysical Union meeting on Dec. 9, 2013. 
"The quality of images and spectra we are receiving from IRIS is amazing," said Alan Title, IRIS principal investigator at Lockheed Martin in Palo Alto, Calif. "And we're getting this kind of quality from a smaller, less expensive mission, which took only 44 months to build."
For the first time, IRIS is making it possible to study the explosive phenomena in the interface region in sufficient detail to determine their role in heating the outer solar atmosphere. The mission’s observations also open a new window into the dynamics of the low solar atmosphere that play a pivotal role in accelerating the solar wind and driving solar eruptive events.
Tracking the complex processes in the interface region requires instrument and modeling capabilities that are only now within our technological reach. IRIS captures both images and what's known as spectra, which display how much of any given wavelength of light is present. This, in turn, corresponds to how much material in the solar atmosphere is present at specific velocities, temperatures and densities. IRIS's success is due not only to its high spatial and temporal resolution, but also because of parallel development of advanced computer models. The combined images and spectra have provided new imagery of a region that was always known to be dynamic, but shows it to be even more violent and turbulent than imagined.
"We are seeing rich and unprecedented images of violent events in which gases are accelerated to very high velocities while being rapidly heated to hundreds of thousands of degrees," said Bart De Pontieu, the IRIS science lead at Lockheed Martin. "These types of observations present significant challenges to current theoretical models."
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Artist's concept of the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, satellite in orbit.
Image Credit: NASA
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DePontieu has been culling images of two particular types of events on the sun that have long been interesting to scientists. One is known as a prominence, which are cool regions within the interface region that appear as giant loops of solar material rising up above the solar surface. When these prominences erupt they lead to solar storms that can reach Earth. IRIS shows highly dynamic and finely structured flows sweeping throughout the prominence.
The second type of event is called a spicule, which are giant fountains of gas – as wide as a state and as long as Earth – that zoom up from the sun's surface at 150,000 miles per hour. Spicules may play a role in distributing heat and energy up into the sun's atmosphere, the corona. IRIS imaging and spectral data allows us to see at high resolution, for the first time, how the spicules evolve. In both cases, observations are more complex than what existing theoretical models predicted.
"We see discrepancies between these observations and the models and that is great news for advancing knowledge," said Mats Carlsson, an astrophysicist at the University of Oslo in Norway. "By seeing something we don't understand we have a chance of learning something new."
Carlsson helps support the crucial computer model component of IRIS' observations. The computer models require an intense amount of power. Modeling just an hour of events on the sun can take several months of computer time. IRIS relies on supercomputers at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., the Norwegian supercomputer collaboration and the Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe.
Such computer models had helped design the IRIS instruments by providing a basis for the instrument performance requirements. Currently, they are used for analysis of IRIS data, as they represent the state of knowledge about what scientists understand about the interface region. By comparing models with actual observations, researchers figure out where the models fail, and therefore where the current state of knowledge is not complete.
By filling in these gaps, IRIS observations are helping round out our images of the solar atmosphere. The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency/NASA Hinode mission provides detailed imagery of the solar surface. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory offers imagery of what's higher up in the corona. Now, IRIS provides unprecedented information about the crucial layer in between, to finally help us understand how energy moves through the lower levels of the solar atmosphere driving the solar wind and heating the corona.
The IRIS Observatory was designed and the mission is managed by Lockheed Martin.The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for
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