A Brief History of High-Energy Astronomy: 1985 - 1989

In Reverse Chronological Order

Dec 2, 1989 The Solar Maximum Mission (SMM) re-enters the Earth's atmosphere and is destroyed. SMM had collected data until Nov 24, 1989, at which time the aerodynamic forces became too great for the Attitude Control System to maintain accurate pointing. Although primarily a solar mission, SMM's scientific payload included the Hard X-Ray Burst Spectrometer and the Gamma-Ray Spectrometer instruments both of which could and did observe cosmic high-energy sources such as Supernova 1987A, the black hole binary system, Cygnus X-1, as well as many cosmic gamma-ray bursts.
Dec 1, 1989 Launch of Granat, a Russian-led mission dedicated to X-ray and gamma-ray astronomy. Its instruments included WATCH, an all-sky monitor in the 6 to 120 keV energy band, SIGMA, a coded-mask X-ray telescope, PHEBUS, a gamma-ray burst experiment, and 4 other experiments.
Nov 18, 1989 Launch of the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE), a NASA mission whose primary goals were to study the spectrum and anisotropy of the cosmic 3 degree K background in the energy band from 0.1 to 10 mm, and the spectrum and angular distribution of the diffuse infrared background in the IR and far-IR bands (1 to 300 microns).
Oct 18, 1989 Launch of the Galileo mission to Jupiter from the Space Shuttle Atlantis (STS-34). Galileo had an array of instruments to study Jupiter, its moons, and the Jovian space environment, as well as a probe which was designed to be dropped into the Jovian atmosphere.
Aug 25, 1989 Closest approach (44,800 km) by Voyager 2 to Neptune. Since this time Voyager 2 has been travelling through the outer Solar System in search of the heliopause (the interface between the solar wind and interstellar space).
Jul 1989 Astron ceases operation. Astron was launched with a projected mission lifetime of one year, but by the time of its shutdown, it had exceeded this goal by over five years.
May 4, 1989 Launch of the Magellan mission to Venus; the primary goal of this mission was to make the most highly detailed maps of this planet up to this date using a sophisticated imaging radar.
Mar 27, 1989 Phobos 2 suffers a failure on the spacecraft while maneuvering into a matching orbit with the Martian moon Phobos.
Jan 29, 1989 Phobos 2 arrives at Mars and begins its Martian experiments.
Sep 2, 1988 Phobos 1 is sent a faulty command sequence, causing the spacecraft to shut down. Contact with the spacecraft was never re-established.
Jul 12, 1988 Launch of the Soviet probe to Mars, Phobos 2.
Jul 7, 1988 Launch of the Soviet probe to Mars, Phobos 1.
Aug-Oct 1987 Detection of gamma-ray emission lines produced by the radioactive decay of the Cobalt 56 isotope from the direction of the supernova SN 1987A, by the Solar Maximum Mission Gamma-Ray Spectrometer. The detection of these lines at 837 and 1238 keV was a triumphant confirmation of the theory that the optical light curves of supernovae in the later stages are powered by the nucleosynthesis of Iron 56 from Cobalt 56 (which itself is produced by the radioactive decay of Nickel 56). See Matz et al. (Nature, 331, 416, 1988) for more details.
Jun-Aug 1987 Detection of X-rays and soft gamma-rays from the supernova SN 1987A, by the Ginga Large Area Counters and the Mir-Kvant/Roentgen Observatory, in the 4 - 40 and 20 - 300 keV energy ranges, respectively. The observed X-ray emission was rather hard and kept on increasing for several months after the original detections. See Sunyaev et al., Dotani et al., and several other papers in Nature, 330, 227 et seq., 1987 for more details of these early observations, and Inoue et al. (PASJ, 43, 213, 1991) for a discussion of the Ginga observations made over the 3+ years after the supernova peak.
Apr 12 1987 Attachment of the Kvant 1 module to the USSR's Mir space station. This module contained (among other things) the Roentgen suite of X-ray and low-energy gamma-ray instruments. They made observations for about a decade, apart from a one-year gap from Fall 1989 to Fall 1990 due to a reconfiguration of the Mir-Kvant Observatory. Mir was continuously occupied, except for two short periods, until August 1999. It re-entered the Earth's atmosphere on March 23, 2001.
Feb 23 - 24, 1987 Supernova 1987A in the Large Magellanic Cloud is discovered by three separate optical observers: see IAU Circular No. 4316 (1987). This is the nearest known supernova in several hundred years. Two neutrino detectors detect a burst of neutrinos a few hours before the optical outburst, the first confirmed detection of neutrinos from a cosmic source other than the Sun: see, for example, the paper by Hirata et al. (1987), Phys. Rev. Letts, 58, 1490.
Feb 5, 1987 Launch of the third Japanese X-ray astronomy satellite Ginga, known as Astro C prior to launch.
Apr 9, 1986 EXOSAT ceases operation.
Feb 19, 1986 Launch of the first module of the Soviet space station Mir. Mir was constructed in orbit over the next 10 years by adding more modules.
Jan 28, 1986
11:39 EST
The Space Shuttle Challenger explodes 73 seconds after launch; all seven crew members onboard are killed.
Jan 24, 1986 NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft makes its closest approach to Uranus.
Oct 5, 1985 Tenma, the second Japanese X-ray astronomy satellite (Astro-B), ceases operation.
Sep 13, 1985 The United States Air Force satellite P 78-1 ceases operation after being deliberately disabled by the USAF as part of an anti-satellite weapons test. P 78-1 carried a gamma-ray spectrometer, a white-light spectrograph, an extreme-ultraviolet spectrometer, a high-latitude particle spectrometer, an aerosol monitor, and an X-ray monitor.
Sep 11, 1985 International Cometary Explorer (ICE; formerly ISEE-3) flies through the tail of the comet P/Giacobini-Zinner. It is the first probe to encounter a comet. Later in 1985, ICE also flies within 0.2 A.U. of P/Halley.
Apr 15, 1985 Hakucho (CORSA-B), the first Japanese X-ray astronomy satellite, ceases operation.

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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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