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UPDATE: Use this link to watch the webcast (the other one isn’t working very well!)
It’s the spacecraft that just won’t quit. We ran a story about a year ago that the Ulysses spacecraft was dying of natural causes (running out of power to keep the spacecraft warm and functional) and its mission would likely end by July 1, 2008. The thing is, the spacecraft just kept hanging on…and hanging on….and hanging on. But now, after 18.6 years in space and defying several earlier expectations of its demise, Ulysses will finally be switched off. You can watch a live webcast of the final communication with the spacecraft, which will occur on June 30, 2009, starting at 15:35 GMT and go until 20:20 GMT.
“Ulysses has taught us far more than we ever expected about the Sun and the way it interacts with the space surrounding it,” said Richard Marsden, ESA’s Ulysses Project Scientist and Mission Manager.
Ulysses was the first spacecraft to survey the environment in space above and below the poles of the Sun in the four dimensions of space and time. Among many other ground-breaking results, the mission showed that the Sun’s magnetic field is carried into the Solar System in a more complicated manner than previously believed. Particles expelled by the Sun from low latitudes can climb up to high latitudes and vice versa, even unexpectedly finding their way down to planets.
And as a eulogy to the Ulysses spacecraft, here’s the last lines from the poem “Ulysses” by English poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson:
“Death closes all; but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done…
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world…
To sail beyond the sunset.”