New IRIS Space Telescope Shows Sun Up Close

SDO IRIS compare

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. 
Image Credit: NASA/SDO/IRIS

The IRIS Telescope was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., on June 27, 2013 on a mission to study the lower interface regions of the suns atmosphere. The telescope opened it’s door on July 17th allowing scientists and engineers to see images from this new observatory for the first time. After years of work these first light images are extremely clear showing the  telescope is in excellent health.

“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 you can see from the image above which compares the same region imaged by the Solar Dynamics Observatory, there is a significant improvement in the already impressive SDO images. KnowledgeOrb uses the SDO images in our live solar feed page where you can see live images of the sun. IRIS’s has a single instrument who’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 instrument is not like SDO in the sense that it only takes images of very small areas of the sun. The instrument observes about one percent of the Sun at a time but this allows it to capture very fine features as small as 150 miles across. 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 a spectrograph.

“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.”