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Watch a Solar Flare Erupting in Unprecedented Detail

The IRIS solar observatory celebrates its second birthday with an explosive new video.

by Becky Ferreira
Jun 27 2015, 11:13pm

Solar flare captured by IRIS. Image: NASA Goddard/YouTube

Two years ago today, NASA launched IRIS (Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph), a solar observatory decked out with a high-resolution ultraviolet telescope.

During its short time in space, IRIS has provided an unprecedented glimpse of the Sun's tempestuous surface, and gleaned new insights into mechanisms behind the solar wind and coronal eruptions—explosions of stellar material that can extend million of miles into space.

To celebrate IRIS's birthday, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
released a short film called "A Slice of Light" about the observatory, which includes a hypnotic close-up of a solar flare that occurred on March 11

"IRIS gives us our first detailed image of a layer of the Sun's atmosphere called the chromosphere," the narrator notes. "Boasting the highest temporal and spatial resolution to date, IRIS provides imagery and a special kind of data called spectra. This technique allows scientists to measure temperature, velocity, and density of the solar material."

"Thanks to IRIS, we can work to better understand what causes these eruptions," the video concludes.

Hear, hear, and let's hope IRIS's next two years are as successful as the first. Though the Sun may be the most familiar star in the sky to us, missions like this hammer home how much we have left to learn about it.