A Brief History of High-Energy Astronomy: 1980 - 1984

In Reverse Chronological Order

Jul 18, 1984 Svetlana Savitskaya (Salyut-7, USSR) becomes the first woman to walk in space.
Apr 20, 1984 First Detection of X-Ray emission during the outburst of a classical nova, by the EXOSAT Low Energy (LE) telescopes. Nova Muscae 1983 was discovered by Liller on 1983 Jan 18, and although initially it looked like a typical fast nova, but after fading by 4 magnitudes in a month, it stayed at 11-11.5th magnitude for the next year rather than continuing to fade. It was observed by EXOSAT 15 months after its maximum, and detected as a weak but significant X-ray source. Since the LE had no spectral capabilities, the origin of the X-ray emission could not be unambiguously determined. See Ogelman et al. (ApJ, 287, L31, 1984) for more details about this discovery.
Apr 1984 In-orbit servicing of the Solar Maximum Mission (SMM) satellite by the crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger enabled SMM to resume pointed observations after a several years hiatus.
Aug 1, 1983 First observation of an ionospheric disturbance due to a gamma-ray burst (GRB) , detected by its effect on very low frequency (VLF) radio signals. The GRB (GRB 830801) occurred at 22:14:20 UT, and was observed by several satellites; it was one of the strongest GRBs recorded up to this date, with a total energy fluence of 2 x 10-3 erg cm-2, and a duration at lower energies in excess of 40 seconds. The temporal coincidence of the GRB and the ionospheric disturbance, combined with the fact that solar X-ray flares of this intensity level were known to produce such effects on the ionosphere, were the major pieces of evidence in support of this attribution. See Fishman and Inan (Nature, 331, 418, 1988) for more details.
May 26, 1983 Launch of the European X-ray Observatory Satellite (EXOSAT).
Mar 23, 1983 Launch of Astron, a joint Soviet-French observatory which carried both UV and X-ray instruments.
Mar 1983 The Soviet Venera 13 & Venera 14 spacecraft cease operations.
Feb 20, 1983 Launch of the second Japanese X-ray astronomy satellite Tenma, known as Astro B prior to launch.
Nov 12, 1982 Publication date of the discovery of the first millisecond pulsar, PSR B1937+21, by Backer et al. (IAU Circ 3743, 1982; see also Nature, 300, 615, 1982), using the Arecibo Radio telescope at 1400 MHz. This 1.56 millisecond pulsar is now recognized as the prototype of the class of `born-again' or 'recycled' pulsars, i.e., the rapid rotation is not due to extreme youth but is instead due to the spin-up of an old neutron star in a binary system caused by the accretion of matter and angular momentum from the expanding envelope of its companion star. As of 2002, about 80 more millisecond pulsars have been discovered with pulse periods less than 10 milliseconds, but PSR B1937+21 is still the fastest known (check out the ATNF Pulsar Catalog for a listing of all known pulsars).
Apr 6, 1982 The European Space Agency COS-B gamma-ray observatory ceases operations. COS-B provided the first complete map of the Galaxy in gamma-rays.
Mar 4, 1982 Venera 14 arrives at Venus; a landing unit descends to the surface while the mother craft continues into interplanetary space after its flyby.
Mar 1, 1982 Venera 13 arrives at Venus; landing unit descends to the surface while the mother craft continues into interplanetary space after its flyby.
1982 The Third International Sun-Earth Explorer (ISEE-3) completes its mission. Adequate onboard fuel allows a new extended mission: the satellite is renamed as the International Cometary Explorer (ICE) and begins a series of gravitational maneuvers with the Earth and Moon to boost it into an orbit to encounter P/Giacobini-Zinner and P/Halley.
Nov 12, 1981 The second space shuttle launch, STS-2: this second flight of Columbia was truncated (only 2 days in duration) due to the failure of a fuel cell. It carried a payload, OSTA-1 (Office of Space and Terrestrial Applications-1), which conducted earth observation experiments.
Apr - Nov 1981 Publication of 3 landmark papers which use data obtained by the Einstein Observatory (HEAO 2) to show that X-ray emission is a common property of most types of `normal' stars, with only a few exceptions such as red giants, and discuss which stellar properties are correlated with this X-ray emission: see Vaiana et al. (1981, ApJ, 245, 163), Pallavicini et al. (1981, ApJ, 248, 279) and Ayres et al. (1981, ApJ, 250, 293) for more details.
Nov 4, 1981 Launch of Venera 14. Both Venera 13 and 14 carry gamma-ray burst detectors and can triangulate source positions through interferometry with the Helios 2, ISEE-3, and Pioneer Venus Orbiter spacecraft.
Oct 30, 1981 Launch of the Soviet Venera 13 spacecraft.
Aug 26, 1981 Voyager 2 makes its closest approach (101,000 km) to Saturn before continuing on its `Grand Tour' to Uranus and Neptune.
May 29, 1981 NASA's Third High Energy Astrophysics Observatory (HEAO-3) ceases operation. HEAO-3 carried three high-energy-astrophysics instruments, one instrument surveying the sky in hard X-rays and gamma rays, and two measuring the composition of cosmic rays.
Apr 25, 1981 The Einstein Observatory (HEAO-2) ceases operation.
Apr 12, 1981 The first space shuttle launch, STS-1: Columbia performed a two day test mission before returning to land at Edwards Air Force Base in California.
Feb 15, 1981 Copernicus (the Third Orbiting Astronomical Observatory, OAO-3) ceases operation. Copernicus was primarily an ultraviolet spectroscopy mission but it also carried 4 co-aligned X-ray detectors.
Nov 1980 The Solar Maximum Mission suffers an onboard failure of its attitude control system, bringing science projects involving the pointed instruments to a halt.
Nov 12, 1980 Voyager 1 makes its closest approach (124,000 km) to Saturn.
Mar 14, 1980 THe British-US Ariel-V spacecraft re-enters the Earth's atmosphere. Ariel-V carried several instruments which monitored the X-ray sky for more than 5 years and catalogued 250 X-ray sources. It detected and studied the bright "X-ray nova" A0620-00 and established that Seyfert 1 galaxies are a class of bright X-ray emitters.
Feb 14, 1980 Launch of the Solar Maximum Mission (SMM). Although primarily a solar mission, SMM's suite of scientific instruments included a Hard X-Ray Burst Spectrometer (HXRBS) and a Gamma-Ray Spectrometer (GRS), both of which could and did observe cosmic high-energy sources.


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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