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On July 17, 2013 at 11:14 pm PDT (2:14 pm EDT) the IRIS Lockheed Martin instrument team successfully opened the door on NASA’s Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, which launched June 27, 2013, aboard a Pegasus XL rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.
As the telescope door opened, IRIS’s single instrument began to observe the sun for the first time. Designed to research the interface region in more detail than has ever been done before, IRIS’s instrument is a combination of an ultraviolet telescope and a spectrograph. The telescope provides high-resolution images, capturing data on about 1 percent of the sun at a time. The images can resolve very fine features, as small as 150 miles across.
While the telescope can look at only one wavelength of light at a time, the spectrograph collects information about many wavelengths of light at once. The instrument then splits the sun’s light into its various wavelengths and measures how much of any given wavelength is present. Analysis of the spectral lines can also provide velocity, temperature and density information, key information when trying to track how energy and heat moves through the region.