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

NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) observed the strongest solar flare on 28 January (29 January in India), since it was launched in the summer of 2013.

According to scientists, solar flares are bursts of x-rays and light that stream out into space. However, scientists are still not certain as to 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 (1:30 a.m. IST), while examining the sun's lower atmospheric layer just above the surface, called chromospheres, scientists observed a moderate flare, labelled an M-class flare, which is the second strongest class of flare after X-class, as reported by NASA.

The researchers explain that the energy heats up the corona (upper atmosphere) as it travels, which prompts solar events such as huge flare.

According to the researchers, the spectrograph, an instrument employed by IRIS to separate the captured light into individual wavelengths, was pointed right into the heart of this flare when it reached its peak and the data obtained helped determining how different temperatures of material flows, giving scientists more insight into how flares work.

The IRIS mission is managed by the Lockheed Martin Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory of the ATC in Palo Alto, California.

"IRIS also draws on state of the art computer modeling sophisticated enough to deal with the complexity of this area. In combination, IRIS's resolution, wide temperature coverage and computer modeling will enable scientists to map plumes of solar material as they move throughout the region and to pinpoint where in their travels they gain energy and heat," according to NASA.

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