Watch NASA IRIS Launch Live: New Sun Observatory Entering Earth Orbit Tonight [VIDEO]

By iScienceTimes Staff on June 27, 2013 4:46 PM EDT

solar eruption
NASA launches the IRIS sun satellite tonight. Above, a solar eruption photographed last year. (Photo: NASA)

NASA will launch its Sun satellite tonight, the beginning of a two-year mission to study the sun's energy.

The Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, will orbit Earth at an altitude of between 390 to 420 miles. Equipped with a telescope that will photograph the sun every five seconds and can determine the sun's temperature from each photo.

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NASA is trying to figure out a couple of things with the sun satellite mission. The space agency wants to study the temperature and weather in the region between the surface of the sun and its corona, the white ring visible during solar eclipses. The region is also what drives the direction of solar wind, and where solar emissions that affect the Earth's climate originates.

"[IRIS is] going to look in closely and it's going to look at that specific region to see how the changes in matter and energy occur in this region," said Jim Hall, mission manager for IRIS. "It's going to collectively bring us a more complete view of the sun."

Another goal of the mission is to try to figure out something that's always puzzled astronomers: why is the sun's surface much cooler than its corona?

"Usually, the closer you get to a heat source, such as a fire, the hotter it gets, but the solar atmosphere doesn't do that. The solar atmosphere gets hotter as it gets further away from the Sun, and scientists don't yet have enough information to distinguish between various theories on why this happens," NASA says on its website.

"What we want to discover is what the basic physical processes are that transfer energy and material from the surface of the sun out to the outer atmosphere, to the corona," said IRIS principal investigator Alan Title, a physicist at Lockheed Martin's Advanced Technology Center Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory.

IRIS will launch tonight from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 9:27 PM EDT. A carrier aircraft will drop the plane above the Pacific Ocean an hour after that, with a rocket carrying IRIS out into orbit.

Watch below to see a NASA video explaining the IRIS project. Below that is the live stream of the IRIS launch, with coverage beginning at 9:00 PM.

Live broadcast by Ustream

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