Updated 01:55 PM EDT, Tue, Sep 22, 2020

NASA Launches New Spacecraft to Study the Sun [Video]

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In an effort to better understand the sun, NASA launched the new IRIS (short for Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph) spacecraft Thursday, June 27. IRIS will point a telescope at the sun and attempt to understand how the sun creates such volatile energy.

IRIS will focus its efforts on the sun's chromosphere, which is the area between the surface of the sun and its insanely hot outer layer called the corona. IRIS will only be looking at around one percent of the sun, at areas as small as 150 miles across, with its ultraviolet telescope to try and figure out how the surface energy translates into such intense heat. 

IRIS will work alongside NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) and Hinode missions. Together, the three spacecraft will observe the three main layers of the sun.

"IRIS will show the solar chromosphere in more detail than has ever been observed before," said Adrian Daw, deputy project scientist. "My opinion is that we are bound to see something we didn't expect to see."

"IRIS almost acts as a microscope to SDO's telescope," said Jim Hall, mission manager for IRIS. "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."

The scientists are excited, as IRIS will be able to help shed some light on sun-related phenomena such as solar flares and coronal mass ejections. This year, 2013, also marks the solar maximum, or peak, in the sun's 11-year cycle.

"I think the biggest surprise will come once the mission is launched and it starts to observe the sun," Daw said. "We know to some extent what we hope to learn, what specific science questions we are going to answer, but there's always that element of surprise."

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