This artist's rendition depicts the response of the solar wind to the obstacle - the planet Mars - in it's path. A supersonic "solar wind" consisting of electrically charged particles (ions and electrons) streams off the Sun into space. It is slowed to subsonic speeds in the vicinity of Mars at a parabolic surface called a "bow shock" upstream of the planet. Here, the magnetic field fluctuates wildly and the flow of the solar wind becomes chaotic. Part of the orbital trajectory of the Mars Global Surveyor is indicated, with MGS approaching the planet just prior to over-flight of the pole.
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Mars Surveyor Operations Project operates the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft with its industrial partner, Lockheed Martin Astronautics, from facilities in Pasadena, CA and Denver, CO. JPL is an operating division of California Institute of Technology (Caltech).