IRIS was built by Lockheed Martin Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory, which leads the science investigation and has operated the spacecraft since its launch in 2013. Researchers on the IRIS science team are running high-fidelity 3D simulations on NASA's Pleiades supercomputer at the NASA Advanced Supercomputing (NAS) facility, located at Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. Astrophysicist Mats Carlsson and his team at the University of Oslo, Norway are simulating a small portion of the Sun and comparing the results with the spacecraft's observations to learn more about how the solar atmosphere is shaped and heated.
By combining numerical modelling with direct observation, the researchers are learning how magnetic fields generated in the Sun's interior affect its lower atmosphere, or chromosphere, which is the primary source of ultraviolet radiation that reaches Earth. The simulations also show how friction between ionized and neutral particles dissipates magnetic energy and helps heat the chromosphere. These findings may help solve several longstanding mysteries, such as why the outer atmosphere of the Sun - the corona - is millions of degrees hotter than its surface.
The team is now working to improve their solar simulations by studying discrepancies between the IRIS observations and the simulated images. With higher resolution and increasing complexity, made possible by Pleiades' massively parallel processing capability, future simulations will even more closely match the spacecraft's data - continuing the successful partnership that has revealed so much about the inner workings of the Sun's atmosphere and ultimately helping us learn how it affects Earth.