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Sunshine, lollipops, and chromospheres: NASA prepares to launch IRIS into the sun

NASA IRIS solar spacecraft readys for launch

Photo Credit: NASA/Tony Vauclin

Preparing NASA's Next Solar Satellite for Launch: Orbital Sciences team members move the second half of the payload fairing before it is placed over NASA's IRIS (Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph) spacecraft. The fairing connects to the nose of the Orbital Sciences Pegasus XL rocket that will lift the solar observatory into orbit.

wonka vision IRIS NASA

Warner Bros. | NASA/Tony Vauclin

Separated at birth? Maybe not. The other half of this image could just have easily been the sad part of E.T. when he's sick and in the tube. Choose your own adventure — On the left, Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, "Wonkavision"; on the right, the Orbital Sciences team prepares NASA's IRIS spacecraft


Credit: NASA&JAXA/Hinode

This image from the joint NASA-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.

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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