ESA's Solar Orbiter to Pass Through Tails of Comet ATLAS

The European Space Agency's Solar Orbiter is making an accidental rendezvous with the tails of the comet ATLAS

    2020/06/02

NSFW    PARIS — The European Space Agency's Solar Orbiter has been given the rare opportunity to conduct some "bonus science" in a serendipitous rendezvous with the tails of the comet ATLAS during the next few days, the space agency detailed in an article on its website.

The Solar Orbiter was launched on February 10, 2020 and is en route to the inner solar system to study the Sun and inner heliosphere. The encounter with ATLAS had not been planned. In May, Geraint Jones of the UK's Mullard Space Science Laboratory discovered that the spacecraft would pass through the comet's tails as early as May 31, according to an article on UCL's website.

The instruments used to study ATLAS were not scheduled to be fully functional until the probe's first solar observation on June 15. ESA scientists moved that timeline forward to begin collecting data when the probe passed through ATLAS's ion tail on May 31 and June 1. The Solar Orbiter will cross ATLAS's dust tail on June 6.
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