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Posted on May 7th, 2013

Reaching Orbit – IRIS and Kepler

Our Sun appears to be having a fit as within a two day period it has erupted in three coronal mass ejections. Luckily they all occurred in the same area and are aimed at Mercury and NASA’s Messenger spacecraft. The coronal mass ejections are traveling at around 550 miles per second and emit particle radiation that can affect spacecraft and satellite electronics.

This event precedes the launch of a new NASA satellite, the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS). Set to launch on May 28, 2013, the satellite is relatively simple in design with only one instrument onboard, a multi-channel imaging spectrograph with an ultraviolet telescope. The satellite will work in tandem with existing satellites like the Solar Dynamics Observatory that I described in the March edition of the Geospatial Times.

If you were to split the Sun in two, you would find a core at the center, followed by the radiative zone and then the convection zone which composes the solar surface. The atmosphere is made of the photosphere, next comes the chromosphere, then the transition region that leads to the corona. The IRIS will give scientists new insight on the interface region between the photosphere and corona which is largely new, undiscovered territory. This data will provide  researchers a glimpse into the region’s dynamics and effects on solar weather, which in turn has major effects on Earth systems. The unveiling of the interface region will greatly enhance our ability to predict the Sun’s weather instead of just reporting it in real time, adding to the body of knowledge surrounding everyone’s favorite star.


Last year around this time I wrote about NASA’s Kepler satellite. Kepler is in the news again for discovering two more Earth-sized planets. As a quick reminder, Kepler’s mission is to discover Earth-sized planets that live in a habitable zone, basically not to close or too far from their central star. The habitable zone means that the planets could conceivably have liquid water on their surface.

This new discovery includes a planet that is 40% larger then our own, which is the closest we have come to discovering a planet Earth’s size that may also be habitable. The planets are too far away for scientist to know their composition with any certainty but they believe them to have rocky surfaces. This has been a public service announcement brought to you by Apollo Mapping.

Katie Nelson
Geospatial Ninja
(303) 718-7163

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