Washington: NASA`s newly-launched Interface Region Imaging Spectrometer, or IRIS, has spotted its strongest solar flare to date.
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.
IRIS peers into a layer of the sun`s lower atmosphere just above the surface, called the chromosphere, with unprecedented resolution. However, IRIS can`t look at the entire sun at the same time, so the team must always make decisions about what region might provide useful observations.
On Jan. 28, 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 p.m. 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 studies the layer of the sun`s atmosphere called the chromosphere that is key to regulating the flow of energy and material as they travel from the sun`s surface out into space. Along the way, the energy heats up the upper atmosphere, the corona, and sometimes powers solar events such as this flare.