Building on the efforts of other observatories such as NASA's SDO, the Japanese Transition Region and Coronal Explorer (TRACE) and the joint NASA/ESA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SoHO), IRIS will take a very small-scale view of the corona, resolving features traveling through the magnetically-dominated lower atmosphere of the sun to a resolution of 150 miles.
"This region is crucial for understanding how the corona gets so hot," said Joe Davila, IRIS project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "For the first time, we will have the capability to observe it at fundamental physical scale sizes and see details that have previously been hidden."
IRIS is equipped with a camera capable of imaging ultraviolet wavelengths and a spectrometer that will analyze the elements populating the lower corona.
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"By looking at spectra of material in these temperature ranges, we can also diagnose velocity and perhaps density of the material, too," said Bart DePontieu, the IRIS science lead at Lockheed Martin in Palo Alto, Calif.