A Brief History of High-Energy Astronomy: 1960 - 1964

In Reverse Chronological Order

1964 In two flights on June 16 and November 25 using Geiger counters on Aerobee rockets, a team from the US Naval Research Laboratory detects eight new discrete sources of X-rays including Kepler's Supernova Remnant, the Galactic Center and Cygnus X-1, the first confirmed black hole binary system: see Bowyer et al. (1965), Science, 147, 394 for more details.
21 Jul 1964 The Crab Nebula supernova remnant is discovered to be a hard X-ray (15 - 60 keV) source by a scintillation counter detector flown on a balloon launched from Palestine, Texas. This was likely the first balloon-based detection of X-rays from a discrete cosmic X-ray source: see Clark (1965), Physics Review Letters, 14, 91 for more details.
7 Jul 1964 The Crab Nebula supernova remnant is discovered to be a bright, spatially extended (with a size similer to that of the optical nebula) X-ray source using Geiger counters on an Aerobee rocket and the lunar occultation technique: see Bowyer et al. (1964), Science, 146, 912 for more details.
16 Jun 1963 The Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova becomes the first woman in space in Vostok 6.
29 Apr 1963 Launch of a proportional counter on an Aerobee rocket by a team from the US Naval Research Laboratory. This experiment was the first to detect X-rays from the Crab Nebula supernova remnant: see Bowyer et al. (1964), Nature, 201, 1307 for more details.
19 Jun 1962 Launch at 06:59 UT of the third ASE-MIT experiment on a USAF Aerobee 150 rocket launched from White Sands, New Mexico. (The group's first two rocket flights with X-ray detectors onboard, a Nike Asp rocket flown from Eglin Air Force Base in Florida on 27 Jun 1960 and an Aerobee 150 launched from White Sands, New Mexico on 25 Oct 1961, failed to return any useful data). This experiment was the first one to detect cosmic X-rays: it detected both the diffuse X-ray `background' as well as the first discrete or point-like X-ray sources (the primary is now referred to as Sco X-1 and, in fact, is the brightest persistent X-ray source, while a secondary source in the Cygnus direction was probably the source Cyg X-2: both of these sources are low-mass X-ray binary (LMXB) systems containing accreting neutron star components). See Giacconi et al. Phys. Rev. Lett., 9, 439 (1962) for more details of this observation. For this and other pioneering work in X-ray astronomy, Riccardo Giacconi won the 1981 Bruce Medal of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, the 2002 Nobel Prize in Physics, and several other awards.
20 Feb 1962 John Glenn becomes the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth, in Friendship 7.
26 Jan 1962 Launch of Ranger 3, the first successful launch of a satellite towards the Moon. Although Ranger 3 failed to crash into the Moon as planned, its gamma-ray detectors did make the first detection of the diffuse gamma-ray background.
Sept 1961 Detector failure on Explorer 11 ends its mission. In addition to solar flares and radiation from the Van Allen belts, Explorer 11 detected 22 gamma-ray events from random directions over the sky, thus initiating the field of space-based gamma-ray astronomy.
25 May 1961 In front of a joint session of the United States Congress, President John F. Kennedy suggests that the U.S.A. should "commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth".
5 May 1961 Alan B. Shepard Jr. becomes the first American to fly into space, when he rode his Mercury capsule on a 15-minute duration suborbital mission.
27 Apr 1961 Launch of Explorer-11, the first satellite to detect gamma rays from cosmic sources.
12 Apr 1961 Successful launch of the first human into space -- Yuri Gagarin in the USSR's Vostok 1.
1 July 1960 The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) establishes a new field center in Huntsville, Alabama to be called the Marshall Space Flight Center in honor of the American soldier and statesman General George C. Marshall.


We would like to thank the following individuals for their contributions to this page: Jesse S. Allen, and Ian M. George along with JPL's Space Calendar and the Working Group for the History of Astronomy's Astronomiae Historia (History of Astronomy) information pages.

Web page author: Stephen A. Drake (based on an original by Jesse S. Allen)

Web page maintainer: Stephen A. Drake

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Last modified: Monday, 11-Sep-2006 09:16:26 EDT