NASA has captured some new and stunning images of the Sun. The new pictures reveal a bit more about our nearest star, showing that the location between the surface of the sun and its atmosphere is far more violent than previously thought.
The new images were taken with the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS). More specifically, this new instrument looked at the interface region of the sun, which is the layer between the sun's surface and corona. Over six months, IRIS took detailed images of this interface region, finding even more turbulence and complexity than expected.
"The quality of the images and spectra we are receiving from IRIS is amazing," said Alan Title, IRIS principal investigator, in a news release. "And we're getting this kind of quality from a smaller, less expensive mission, which took only 44 months to build."
Within the new images, the scientists can see gases accelerated to very high velocities while being rapidly heated to hundreds of thousands of degrees. Yet there are two events on the sun that are particularly interesting to scientists. One is known as a prominence, which is a cool region within the interface region that appears as a giant loop of solar material rising up above the solar surface. When these prominences erupt they lead to solar storms that can reach Earth.
The second type of event is called a spicule. These spicules are giant fountains of gas that are as wide as a state and as long as Earth; they can zoom up from the sun's surface at 150,000 miles per hour and may play a role in distributing heat and energy into the sun's upper atmosphere, the corona.
"We see discrepancies between these observations and the models and that is great news for advancing knowledge," said Mats Carlsson, one of the researchers, in a news release. "By seeing something we don't understand we have the chance of learning something new."
Currently, the researchers are still studying the images that IRIS has produced. Yet the current ones are a good step in the right direction when it comes to learning a bit more about the sun. The pictures allow scientists to see exactly where computer models fail when it comes to predicting solar behavior. This, in turn, could help create better models in the future.