Thursday, June 27, 2013

NASA IRIS Mission: Sun-Watching Probe Launched - Video

NASA IRIS, the  newest solar observatory launched into space late Thursday (June 27), beginning a two-year quest to probe some of the sun's biggest mysteries. An Orbital Sciences Corp. Pegasus XL rocket and the new solar telescope, called the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph satellite (IRIS), left California's Vandenberg Air Force Base underneath a specially modified aircraft at 9:30 p.m. EDT Thursday (6:30 p.m. local time; 0130 GMT Friday).

Nearly one hour later, at 10:27 p.m. EDT (7:27 p.m. local time), the plane dropped its payload 39,000 feet (11,900 meters) above the Pacific Ocean, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) northwest of Vandenberg.

After a five-second freefall, the Pegasus rocket roared to life and carried the sun-watching IRIS into Earth orbit.

"We're thrilled. We're very excited," NASA launch director Tim Dunn said just after the successful blastoff.

"We've gotten good data back. The solar arrays did begin to deploy and everything is proceeding right on track."

Scientists hope IRIS' observations help them better understand how energy and material move around the sun. They want to know, for example, why the outer atmosphere of the sun is more than 1,000 times hotter than the star's surface.

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