The  Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer
Credit: NASA

The Return of the Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer

The Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer was launched on December 30, 1995. RXTE was a satellite observatory dedicated to exploring the rapid variations of mysterious sources of X-ray emission in deep space: rapidly spinning neutron stars, the final death spiral of matter being swallowed by black holes, explosive stars, and active galaxies. It was named in honor of Bruno Rossi, one of the pioneers of X-ray astronomy, a scientist who helped discover the first source of cosmic X-rays outside our solar system. RXTE carried a set of 3 instruments: the All-Sky Monitor, which scanned the entire sky looking for new X-ray sources; the High Energy X-Ray Timing Experiment, and the Proportional Counter Array. It spent 16 years observing the sky, making discoveries which essentially revolutionized our understanding of the variable X-ray universe. Some of the key observations were the discovery of magnetars, neutron stars which have the strongest known magnetic fields in the Universe; the discovery of X-ray pulsars in the Milky Way's neighbor, the Small Magellanic Cloud; the detection of material orbiting around black holes at hundreds of times per second; and the confirmation that spinning black holes drag spacetime around with them. RXTE ended its mission of discovery in January 2012. Atmospheric drag caused the orbit of RXTE to decay, and RXTE finally reentered Earth's atmosphere on April 30, 2018 at about 14:45 UTC (10:45am EDT). Its proud legacy lives on in currently operating X-ray observatories like Swift and NICER, and is an important influence on the design of future missions.
Published: May 7, 2018

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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran
Last modified Monday, 14-May-2018 09:01:38 EDT