View from a Rhino House: here comes the sun

Today will see the launch of NASA’s Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) to stare at the sun; a $180 million telescope that will probe a bizarre aspect of our star called the chromosphere (the region between the star’s surface & its corona, the plasma layer that surrounds it). Almost nothing is known about what happens in this “interface region”.

This afternoon an aircraft carrying a rocket with the telescope inside will launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, & will release the rocket 12 kilometres up, that will then carry the telescope to its final orbit at 660 kilometres.

IRIS has a much higher resolution than previous observatories that have studied the chromosphere & it will measure jets of plasma, which NASA hopes will help explain why the corona, at 1 million degrees kelvin, is so much hotter than the surface, at a mere 6000 degrees kelvin.

I never understood how this was possible, nobody I knew could ever explain how it was possible, & after today I’m pretty certain that neither of those two situations will change. But at least it’s a start.

IRIS, courtesy of Lockheed Martin

IRIS, courtesy of Lockheed Martin