NASA’s RXTE Spacecraft Fall To Earth After 2 Decades In Space

Posted: May 20 2018, 3:31pm CDT | by , Updated: May 20 2018, 3:44pm CDT , in Latest Science News


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NASA’s RXTE Spacecraft Fall to Earth After 2 Decades in Space
Credit: UCSD

The satellite orbited Earth for years and detected X-rays signals released by some of the most extreme environments in space

NASA's Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer (RXTE) mission finally ended after spending more than 22 years in space. The 6,700-pound spacecraft burned up in the atmosphere during its reentry earlier this month but it left a treasure trove of data on X-ray sources in space.

RXTE was launched into orbit on December 1995 and provided researchers with an unprecedented look into the X-rays emitted by objects like neutron stars, pulsars and black holes. In 2012, the mission was terminated after receiving last batch of data. But the spacecraft stayed in space.

"The data remain a treasure trove for studying compact objects, whether pulsars and stellar-mass black holes in our own galaxy or supermassive black holes in the cores of distant galaxies," said Tod Strohmayer, who was a RXTE's project scientist. "So far, more than 3,100 published papers in refereed journals, totaling over 95,000 citations, include RXTE measurements."

Objects like pulsers and neutron stars have strong magentic fields that allow them to pull material from a nearby companion star and collect it into an accretion disk. The orbiting material becomes so hot that it begin to emit X-rays. These X-ray signals vary on time scales ranging from a few seconds to less than a millisecond and hold important clues on the nature of the galaxy’s most extreme objects.

"Observing these X-ray phenomena with precise high-resolution timing was RXTE's specialty," said Jean Swank, an astrophysicist emeritus at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "During RXTE's run, no other observatory could provide these measurements."

RXTE mission is over. Now, NASA's Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) will take over where the RXTE mission left off.

"NICER is the successor to RXTE, with an order-of-magnitude improvement in sensitivity, energy resolution and time resolution," said Keith Gendreau, the mission's principal investigator. "The X-ray band NICER observes overlaps the lower end of RXTE's range, which means we can more easily take advantage of its long observational record."

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
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