The strongest solar flare yet seen by NASA’s Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) was recently captured in a beautiful new image. The flare, which erupted from the Sun at 2:40 pm EST on January 28, 2014, registered as an M-class solar flare — a moderate flare, not as strong as the powerful X-class flares, but still significant. IRIS launched in the summer of 2013.
NASA’s IRIS is focused on the study of the layer of the Sun’s atmosphere known as the chromosphere — a region that is key to the regulation of the flow of energy and material that the Sun releases. It’s this flowing energy that sometimes heats up the upper atmosphere of the Sun, the corona, and powers eruptions, such as solar flares.
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IRIS is equipped with an instrument called a spectrograph that can separate out the light it sees into its individual wavelengths, which in turn correlates to material at different temperatures, velocities and densities. The spectrograph on IRIS was pointed right into the heart of this flare when it reached its peak, and so the data obtained can help determine how different temperatures of material flow, giving scientists more insight into how flares work.
The IRIS mission is managed by the Lockheed Martin Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory of the ATC in Palo Alto, Calif. NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., is responsible for mission operations and the ground data system. The Ames Pleiades supercomputer is used to carry out many of the numerical simulations that are led by the University of Oslo. The IRIS telescope was designed and built by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory while Montana State University faculty and students assisted in the design of the spectrograph. A large volume of science data is downlinked via Kongsberg Satellite Services, (KSAT) facilities through a cooperative agreement between NASA and the Norwegian Space Centre. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., oversees the Explorers Program from which IRIS evolved.
The Sun is currently thought to be heading into a period of low activity — meaning fewer solar flares and CMEs.
Image Credit: NASA/IRIS