Scientists are gaining a better view into energy and plasma movement near the surface of the sun, thanks to NASA’s Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) mission, launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., June 26, 2013.
Part of NASA’s Small Explorer (SMEX) Mission, which delivers space exploration missions costing less than $120 million, IRIS was designed and built at Lockheed Martin’s Space Advanced Technology Center (ATC) in Palo Alto, Calif. The program was developed with support from Lockheed Martin’s Civil Space line of business as well as partners Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Montana State University, Stanford University and the University of Oslo.
The goal of the IRIS program is to better understand how energy and plasma move from a lower layer of the sun’s surface called the photosphere, through the chromosphere layer and to the outer corona layer. Observation into this movement has been a fundamental challenge in solar and heliospheric science, and the IRIS mission will open a window of discovery into this crucial region by providing observations necessary to pinpoint physical forces at work in this little understood piece of real estate near the surface of the Sun.