NASA's IRIS satellite captures largest solar flare since launch

By Brooks Hays   |   Feb. 24, 2014 at 4:32 PM   |   Comments

MOFFETT, Calif., Feb. 24 (UPI) -- IRIS, NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, a satellite telescope that can visualize light as individual wavelengths, recently witnessed its largest solar flare since it launched last year.

IRIS fixes its gaze on various parts of the sun, looking for solar energy activity. The satellite can't focus on the entirety of the sun, so scientists at NASA have to make decisions about where to look for solar flares and other solar phenomena.

On Jan. 28, scientists at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., spotted some moderate electromagnetic activity and focused in on what turned out be the strongest solar flare IRIS has captured. The satellite was able to record the blaze of x-rays and light leaping out from the sun's surface and into its lower atmosphere, known as the chromosphere. The flare was determined to be an M-class flare, the second strongest after X-class.

Because IRIS can picture individual light waves -- each wavelength's frequency corresponding with different temperatures, materials, and velocities -- scientists are hopeful that such imagery can help them better understand how energy, light, and heat behave during an event like a solar flare, as well as determine exactly what precipitates their occurrence.


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