NASA set to launch next solar satellite

NASA set to launch next solar satellite

NASA is preparing to launch its latest scientific satellite this month to provide the most detailed look ever at the Sun's lower atmosphere or the region that emits ultraviolet light

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The Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) mission 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 impact the near-Earth space environment and Earth's climate.

The IRIS spacecraft was designed and built by Lockheed Martin's Advanced Technology Center in Palo Alto, California.

It will launch on June 26 aboard an Orbital Sciences Corp Pegasus XL rocket deployed by the company's L-1011 aircraft from Vandenberg Air Force Base on the central California coast.
"IRIS data will fill a crucial gap in our understanding of the solar interface region upon joining our fleet of heliophysics spacecraft," said Jeffrey Newmark, NASA's IRIS programme scientist in Washington.

"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," Newmark said in a statement.

IRIS carries an ultraviolet telescope that feeds a multi-channel imaging spectrograph. 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 240 kilometres across the Sun.

"Previous observations suggest there are structures in this region of the solar atmosphere 100 miles (160 km) to 150 miles (241 km) wide, but 1,00,000 miles (1,60,934 km) long," said Alan Title, IRIS principal investigator at Lockheed Martin.

"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.

After launch, IRIS will travel in a polar, Sun-synchronous orbit around Earth, crossing nearly directly over the poles in such a way that it moves over the equator at the same local time each day.

The spacecraft will orbit at an altitude range of 627 km to 675 km. This orbit allows for almost continuous solar observations on IRIS' two-year mission.

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