On May 4, 2017, after three months of precisely coordinated maneuvers, MMS reached its new orbit to begin studying the magnetic environment on the ever-rotating nighttime side of Earth.
The space around Earth is not as empty as it looks. It’s packed with high energy electrons and ions that zoom along magnetic field lines and surf along waves created by electric and magnetic fields.
MMS studies how these particles move in order to understand a process known as magnetic reconnection, which occurs when magnetic fields explosively collide and re-align.
After launch, MMS started exploring the magnetic environment on the side of Earth closest to the sun. Now, MMS has been boosted into a new orbit that tops out twice as high as before, at over 98,000 miles above Earth’s surface.
The new orbit will allow the spacecraft to study magnetic reconnection on the night side of Earth, where the process is thought to cause the northern and southern lights and energize particles that fill the radiation belts, a doughnut-shaped region of trapped particles surrounding Earth.
MMS uses four separate but identical spacecraft, which fly in a tight pyramid formation known as a tetrahedron. This allows MMS to map the magnetic environment in three dimensions.
MMS made many discoveries during its first two years in space, and its new orbit will open the door to even more. The information scientists get from MMS will help us better understand our space environment, which helps in planning future missions to explore even further beyond our planet. Learn more about MMS at nasa.gov/mms.