Satellite Crashes on Earth after Completing Two Decades in Space

The Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer (RXTE) fell back on earth on April 30 after completing more than 20 years of its journey in space. It was burned up in the atmosphere after it entered. The satellite was decommissioned in the year 2012.

Probing gravitational objects in space, the satellite gave insights into black holes, neutron stars and other such gravitational objects. The main speciality of the RXTE was to probe the phenomena of X-ray with a high-resolution timing. There was hardly any other instrument which could give such precise measurements compared to the RXTE, confesses another astrophysicist at NASA. 

Originally named as the XTE, the instrument was launched in the December of 1995 from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station based in Florida. It was renamed as the RXTE in the year 1996 after the famous MIT astronomer, Bruno Rossi. He was also a pioneer in the X-ray astronomy and he died in 1993. 

The RXTE had last conveyed data on the ground on January 4, 2012. The spacecraft is especially known for its important and valuable scientific observations. NASA officials praise its achievements and confessed that the satellite has exceeded its capabilities and achieved a milestone. 

The RXTE provided its first observation on “frame dragging’ in the year 1997. This is based on the general relativity theory of Einstein. It was this instrument which observed that even though black holes can have different masses, the X-ray produced by them is quite similar. It also tracked the oscillations of the rays deep within. Where the stellar mass black holes experience changes within a few hours, the supermassive black holes experience the same changes over years. 

The mission involving RXTE also led to the discovery of the neutron star known as the magnetar. The normal neutron stars are capable of producing magnetic fields which are 10 trillion times stronger than that of the earth. The magnetar is capable of producing magnetic fields which are thousand times stronger than the earth. Till now, they have the most powerful magnetic fields in the entire universe. 

The RXTE provided data which remains valuable to the scientists in the arena of space science. For its major contributions in astronomy, five awards have been honoured to the research involving the instrument. It retired in 2012 by the NASA and yet its contribution to the scientific community remains recognised.