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NASA's IRIS Spots Its Largest Solar Flare

On Jan. 28, 2014, NASA's IRIS witnessed its strongest solar flare since it launched in the summer of 2013. Image Credit: NASA/IRIS

On Jan. 28, 2014, NASA's IRIS witnessed its strongest solar flare since it launched in the summer of 2013.

Image Credit: NASA/IRIS

On Jan. 28, 2014, NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, witnessed its strongest solar flare since it launched in the summer of 2013. Solar flares are bursts of x-rays and light that stream out into space, but scientists don't yet know the fine details of what sets them off.

Scientists spotted a magnetically active region on the Sun and focused IRIS on it to see how the solar material behaved under intense magnetic forces. At 2:40 pm EST, a moderate flare, labeled an M-class flare -- which is the second strongest class flare after X-class – erupted from the area, sending light and x-rays into space.

IRIS is equipped with an instrument called a spectrograph that can separate out the light it sees into its individual wavelengths, which in turn correlates to material at different temperatures, velocities and densities. The spectrograph on IRIS was pointed right into the heart of this flare when it reached its peak, and so the data obtained can help determine how different temperatures of material flow, giving scientists more insight into how flares work.

Learn more on NASA's website.

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