In 1970 the Uhuru satellite, one of NASA's small astronomy satellites, began to look specifically for X-ray sources. Uhuru used detectors filled with argon, in which incoming X radiation gives off electrons in amounts proportional to its strength. Uhuru mapped more than 400 sources and discovered a series of X-ray binary stars in which ordinary stars orbit neutron stars that emit X rays. One of these sources, Cygnus X-1, is an object with ten times the mass of the sun. Too massive to be a neutron star , it is possibly a black hole .
Much of the data in X-ray astronomy is now gathered by orbiting satellites. In addition to the United States, Germany and Japan are among the countries having X-ray satellites. In the 1970s the Skylab space station and Orbiting Solar Observatory satellites continued the study, as did the Solar Maximum Mission the following decade. A series of High Energy Astrophysical Observatories (HEAO) were launched during the late 1970s to study X rays, cosmic rays, and gamma rays. HEAO-1, launched in 1977, increased the number of known X-ray sources from 350 to 1,500. HEAO-2 —also known as the Einstein Observatory—carried the largest X-ray telescope ever built. It detected several thousand new X-ray sources in our galaxy and beyond, discovered that cataclysmic variable stars in our own galaxy emit X rays when they are in outburst, achieved the first unambiguous detection of X rays from ordinary stars other than the sun, and obtained the first X-ray images of supernova remnants, pulsars, and star clusters. As a result, supernova remnants mapped in X-ray wavelengths can be compared with visible light and radio images. In an example of cooperation between amateur and professional astronomers, the Einstein Observatory was turned toward SS Cygni (see variable star ) whenever amateur astronomers with backyard telescopes reported it in outburst. The few days' duration of these outbursts allowed enough time to change the satellite's observing schedule so that it could examine the star, and it discovered the source of the star's X-ray emissions.
During the 1980s the European, Russian, and Japanese space agencies continued to launch successful X-ray astronomy missions, such as the European X-ray Observatory Satellite ( EXOSAT ), Granat, the Kvant module (of the Mir space station ), Tenma, and Ginga. These missions were more modest in scale than the HEAO program in the 1970s and were directed toward in-depth studies of known phenomena.
ellite], a joint project of Germany, the United States, and Great Britain, was launched. Operational until 1999, it was instrumental in the discovery of X-ray emissions from
located near the center of the
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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