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