This Solar Satellite Will Shed Light on the Inner Workings of the SunAndrew Tarantola6/26/13 11:30amFiled to: Monster MachinesspacenasaIRIS42EditPromoteShare to KinjaToggle Conversation toolsGo to permalinkThe Sun actually gets hotter as you travel away from its surface, jumping from 6,000 K there to over 1,000,000 K a few million kilometers above in the corona. This effect contributes to solar flares that can damage earthbound electronics and we have no idea how it does this. But NASA is about to find out thanks to the IRIS (Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph) spacecraft that just launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base today.AdvertisementThe two-year IRIS project is part of NASA's Small Explorer (SMEX) mission that has studied everything from mesospheric ice aeronomy to the interstellar boundaries of our galaxy. IRIS itself is designed to study how heat and energy propagate through the Sun's lower atmosphere using an ultraviolet telescope and an imaging spectrograph. "This is the first time we'll be directly observing this region since the 1970s," Joe Davila, IRIS project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a press statement. "We're excited to bring this new set of observations to bear on the continued question of how the corona gets so hot."The Lockheed Martin Solar and Astrophysics Lab teamed with NASA Ames—as well as the Smithsonian, and a trio of universities—-to produce the $120 million spacecraft. It measures approximately seven feet long by 12 feet wide with its solar panel array deployed and weighs 440 pounds. Its only equipment are the 8-inch ultraviolet telescope and imaging spectrograph. While the relatively-small diameter of the telescope will only allow researchers to image 1 percent of the Sun's surface at a time, it will also resolve objects down to 150 miles, providing an unprecedented close-up view of our home star like an astronomical microscope, the perfect complement to NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO).