The first images from NASA's new IRIS telescope are in. And they're stunning.
Billed as one of the most powerful telescopes ever made, IRIS beamed back some incredible images of the sun's mysterious lower atmosphere after opening its doors for the first time last week.
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Space enthusiasts gushed over the shots released Thursday, and even NASA sounded pretty impressed in its press release:
"The moment when a telescope first opens its doors represents the culmination of years of work and planning — while simultaneously laying the groundwork for a wealth of research and answers yet to come. It is a moment of excitement and perhaps even a little uncertainty. On July 17, 2013, the international team of scientists and engineers who supported and built NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, all lived through that moment. As the spacecraft orbited around Earth, the door of the telescope opened to view the mysterious lowest layers of the sun's atmosphere and the results thus far are nothing short of amazing. The data is crisp and clear, showing unprecedented detail of this little-observed region."
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Not much is known about the region of the sun IRIS is currently observing, the lower atmosphere, and how it transports the energy that supports the sun's fiery corona.
Jay M. Pasachoff, an astronomy professor at Williams College called it "one of the important unsolved problems of astrophysics."
Launched last month, the IRIS mission has long-term implications for understanding the genesis of space weather near Earth, according to NASA.