About the Instrument
While the Sun can produce fierce storms and radiation, it also continually produces a solar wind of charged particles and magnetic field that blows out against the interstellar medium, providing a protective sheath around the solar system called the heliosphere. NASA’s IMAP mission aims to advance our understanding of the heliosphere and its interactions with interstellar space. Critical to that objective will be an APL-built instrument called Ultra.
Nearly identical to the JENI instrument APL is building for the European Space Agency’s JUICE mission to Jupiter and Ganymede, Ultra will capture images of energetic neutral atoms (particularly hydrogen atoms) produced just outside the solar system in the heliosheath, the region where the Sun’s solar wind slows as it rams into the interstellar medium particles and magnetic field. Roughly every three months, Ultra will produce detailed images that cover more than 50% of the heliosphere, providing new understanding about how energetic particles and pressures at the edge of the solar system and beyond vary over time and form our own heliospheric bubble.