NASA Launches IRIS to Study Sun's Atmosphere


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After being delayed for one day over a power outage at Vandenberg Air Force Base, NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) spacecraft was successfully launched on Thursday evening. The satellite will help researchers on Earth study the sun's lower atmosphere.

"Congratulations to the entire team on the successful development and deployment of the IRIS mission," said Gary Kushner, IRIS project manager at the Lockheed Martin Solar and Atmospheric Laboratory. "Now that IRIS is in orbit, we can begin our 30-day engineering checkout followed by a 30-day science checkout and calibration period."

Following its 60-day commissioning phase, IRIS will begin studying how the sun's surface heats up and moves as it travels through its lower atmosphere. NASA stated that this region of the sun, located between the photosphere and corona, "powers" the solar atmosphere, producing solar wind and ultraviolet radiation. Researchers believe that researching this region can help to better predict solar weather, which can affect both Earth and its surrounding satellites.

The IRIS was launched using a Pegasus XL rocket strapped to an Orbital L-1011 carrier aircraft. At 7:40 pm, at an altitude of 39,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean, the rocket was released from the plane and fired off into orbit. The launch can be seen in the video below, captured by NASA.