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This image shows the dramatic difference between solar minimum and solar maximum. The picture on the left was taken in January 1996, near solar minimum. The picture on the right was taken in 1999 when the Sun was nearing solar maximum. The Sun certainly looks more active! These images were taken by the SOHO spacecraft.
Click on image for full size
Courtesy of NASA/ESA

Ulysses Heads South for Solar Maximum
News story originally written on January 4, 2001

Some birds and some people head south for the winter. Well, the Ulysses space probe has headed to the south pole of the Sun! Bet, it's warmer there!

The Ulysses probe reached the south pole on November 27, 2000. This is actually Ulysses's second trip around the southern side of the Sun. Its first trip was in 1994 when the Sun was at solar minimum. The Sun has an 11-year solar cycle. So, in 11 years, the Sun goes from a maximum to a minimum back to a maximum. When the Sun is at a minimum, it is fairly quiet there. There are few flares or coronal mass ejections. When the Sun is at a maximum, things are active! The Sun spits out much more material that can affect satellites in space and life on Earth!

So, things could be quite different on this pass as the Sun is nearing solar maximum. There are many spacecraft and ground-based telescopes watching the Sun now, making this the most watched solar maximum in history. There's no telling what scientists will learn about the Sun, space weather and its effects on Earth!

Although Ulysses was launched in 1990, its mission is far from over. Ulysses will return to the north pole of the Sun in October 2001.

Last modified February 1, 2001 by Jennifer Bergman.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA