NASA releases first images of spacecraft sudying the sun

July 25, 2013 at 6:03 PM
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GREENBELT, Md., July 25 (UPI) -- NASA has released the first images from a spacecraft intended to observe a mysterious portion of the sun's atmosphere in great detail.

The images from the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph spacecraft show the lowest layers of the sun's atmosphere in unprecedented detail, the space agency said Thursday.

The images reveal dynamic magnetic structures and flows of material in the sun's atmosphere and hint at tremendous amounts of energy being transferred through this little-understood region, NASA scientists said.

"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, 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."

The IRIS telescope captured the images after its door opened for the first time July 17.

They showed a multitude of thin, fibril-like structures never 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, scientists said.

IRIS's instrument is a combination of an ultraviolet telescope and a spectrograph that provides information about many wavelengths of light at once.

"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."

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