NASA’s $19 Mil­lion Con­tract Ex­tends Lock­heed Martin-Built IRIS Space Ob­ser­va­tory for Deeper Look at the Sun

India Strategic - - INDUSTRY -

PALO ALTO, CALIF. De­liv­er­ing the most de­tailed im­ages of the sun’s lower at­mos­phere ever recorded from space, the In­ter­face Re­gion Imag­ing Spec­tro­graph (IRIS), built and op­er­ated by Lock­heed Martin for NASA, has re­ceived more time to de­liver ground­break­ing space sci­ence.

A re­cent $19.4 mil­lion con­tract ex­tends Lock­heed Martin’s sup­port for the or­bit­ing ob­ser­va­tory through Septem­ber 2018, with a fur­ther ex­ten­sion pos­si­ble through Septem­ber 2019. “IRIS has taken more than 24 mil­lion im­ages or spec­tral mea­sure­ments of the sun since its launch three years ago, and it has led to more than 115 sci­en­tific pa­pers,” said Dr Bart De Pon­tieu, IRIS sci­ence lead at Lock­heed Martin’s Ad­vanced Tech­nol­ogy Cen­tre. “In this new ex­ten­sion, IRIS will be able to study a wide range of phe­nom­ena, in­clud­ing the source re­gions of fast so­lar wind, a stream of charged par­ti­cles that con­tin­u­ously em­anates from the sun at speeds of 1,000 km/s and fills the space around the Earth.”

Sci­en­tists at NASA, Lock­heed Martin and other in­sti­tu­tions around the world have used IRIS to make ex­cit­ing dis­cov­er­ies about what causes the heat­ing of the so­lar at­mos­phere and how so­lar flares are trig­gered and re­lease mag­netic en­ergy. The ob­ser­va­tory views only a small part of the sun at any time, but through care­ful plan­ning by the IRIS sci­ence plan­ning team, IRIS was able to catch nine of the largest flares (X-class) and al­most 100 of the sec­ond largest class of flares ( M- class) and nu­mer­ous weaker C-class flares.

The IRIS pro­gramme will now move into a pe­riod study­ing the tail end of the so­lar ac­tiv­ity cy­cle, which just went through a pe­riod of max­i­mum ac­tiv­ity. Some of the largest flares and most pow­er­ful coro­nal mass ejec­tions oc­cur dur­ing this phase of the so­lar cy­cle.

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