NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) solar observatory has recently beamed back stunning footage of a giant Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) that can dwarf most previously recorded CMEs. The footage showed the CME in great detail much to the delight of NASA scientists.
The CME in question occurred last May 9 and was recorded by the instruments onboard the IRIS observatory. The IRIS is the latest solar observatory operated by NASA and the satellite was launched fairly recently in June 2013. The satellite was designed, built and launched with the specific purposes of observing the solar limb. In particular, the IRIS team focuses on investigating the Sun's chromospheres. The IRIS is also equipped with a Lockheed Martin built spectrometer and a Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory designed telescope, which were used to take the stunning footage.
NASA posted a video of the footage on YouTube, which shows off the high resolution observation capabilities of the IRIS. The images sent back by the satellite shows the specific section of the Sun where the CME occurred. The footage highlights the base of the CME as the solar material was ejected into space. The video also shows a line that can be seen moving across the video. This line corresponds to the entrance slit of the satellite's spectrograph. This instrument is vital to the operations of the IRIS and it is responsible for splitting light into its component wavelengths. This instrument allows the satellite to record a wide variety of information including the density of the ejected solar materials, the speed at which the materials were travelling as well as the temperature of the CME.
To date, the May CME is considered as the first CME observed by the IRIS. The footage shows a giant mass of solar material erupting into space at a speed of approximately 1.5 million miles per hour. While recording footage of a CME of this scale may seem easy at first glance, the feat actually involved luck and a bit of scientific guesswork. Due to the sheer size of the Sun, the IRIS can only point its instruments at specific portions of the Sun at any given time. Luckily, the observatory was able to position its instruments at the right place during the right time.
"We focus in on active regions to try to see a flare or a CME," said IRIS lead scientist Bart De Pontieu. "And then we wait and hope that we'll catch something. This is the first clear CME for IRIS so the team is very excited."