NASA is now closer to the sun than Icarus could have ever dreamed, thanks to the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, IRIS. The mission, which launched on June 26 to examine the sun's atmosphere, just released its first images, revealing a part of the sun that was unseen until now.
IRIS 's instrument is part ultraviolet telescope, part spectrograph. It snaps high-res images, monitoring just one per cent of our brightest start at a time. It looks at just one wavelength at a time, and it's so powerful, can pick up very detailed features of the sun, down to 240km across. IRIS exists to give scientists a better look at how heat and energy move through the sun's mysterious lower atmosphere, and why those electronics-scrambling sun flares cause us strife down here on Earth from time to time.
Here's a more detailed explainer on the IRIS mission, which is the first time NASA has explored the sun's environs since the 1970s. The image above is a still from the following video, snapped by IRIS on July 17, 21 hours after IRIS opened its doors for the first time. Don't those swirling waves just feel hot? You can bet your butt they are, and it's just about the closest most of us would ever want to get to the sun anyway. [NASA]