PARIS (ESA PR) — ESA’s Solar Orbiter will cross through the tails of Comet ATLAS during the next few days. Although the recently launched spacecraft was not due to be taking science data at this time, mission experts have worked to ensure that the four most relevant instruments will be switched on during the unique encounter.
After more than 17 years of pioneering solar science, a joint NASA and European Space Agency mission to study the sun will end on or about July 1.
The Ulysses spacecraft has endured for almost four times its expected lifespan. However, the spacecraft will cease operations because of a decline in power produced by its onboard generators. Ulysses forever has changed the way scientists view the sun and its effect on the surrounding space. Mission results and the science legacy it leaves behind were reviewed today at ESA Headquarters in Paris.
“The main objective of Ulysses was to study, from every angle, the heliosphere, which is the vast bubble in space carved out by the solar wind,” said Ed Smith, Ulysses project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “Over its long life, Ulysses redefined our knowledge of the heliosphere and went on to answer questions about our solar neighborhood we did not know to ask.”
Ulysses ends its career after revealing that the magnetic field emanating from the sun’s poles is much weaker than previously observed. This could mean the upcoming solar maximum period will be less intense than in recent history.