NASA Spacecraft Captures Unprecedented Views of the Sun’s Mystery Layer. During its first six months in space, NASA’s IRIS telescope has snapped stunning images of an obscure layer of the sun, revealing previously unseen violence and complexity in the lowest slivers of our star’s atmosphere, scientists say.
The IRIS Observatory launched in June and its name is short for Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph. The small spacecraft is designed to collect data on the interface region, a little-understood area spanning the 3,000 to 6,000 miles (4,800 to 9,600 kilometers) between the solar surface and outer atmosphere, or corona.
Scientists have hoped IRIS could shed light on some of the sun’s secrets, such as why temperatures shoot from 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit (5,500 degrees Celsius) at the sun’s surface to about 1.8 million degrees F (1 million degrees C) at the corona. Researchers working on the mission presented some of the probe’s observations thus far Monday (Dec. 9) at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. [Photos: NASA’s IRIS Sun Observatory Mission in Space]