Science
Fact-checked

At AllTheScience, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.

Learn more...

What is the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory?

The Compton Gamma Ray Observatory was a space telescope launched by NASA in 1991, dedicated to observing gamma rays, the most energetic form of light. It revolutionized our understanding of cosmic phenomena like black holes and neutron stars. Its legacy continues to shape astrophysics. How has this observatory altered our view of the universe? Join us as we unveil its cosmic impact.
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

The Compton Gamma Ray Observatory is a space telescope designed to receive gamma rays, very high-energy and short-wavelength electromagnetic radiation produced from subatomic particle interactions, such as electron-positron annihilation and radioactive decay. The Compton Gamma Ray Observatory was launched on 5 April 1991 as part of NASA's Great Observatories program. The Compton was the 2nd of the Great Observatories to be launched, after the Hubble Space Telescope and before the Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Spitzter Space Telescope.

Unfortunately, in 2000, one of Compton's gyroscopes failed and the craft had to be de-orbited, with some controversy. Launched on the Space Shuttle Atlantis, Compton was the heaviest payload ever launched at the time, weighing in at 17,000 kg (37,500 lb).

Carried by the Space Shuttle Atlantis, Compton was the heaviest payload ever launched at the time.
Carried by the Space Shuttle Atlantis, Compton was the heaviest payload ever launched at the time.

Compton used scintillators to record incoming gamma rays, released in large quantities during astronomical events called gamma ray bursts, mysterious phenomena that occur in seemingly random areas of deep space, billions of light years away. Gamma ray bursts are very brief, lasting only milliseconds to minutes, but during this time can release more energy than an entire galaxy. The current theory is that gamma ray bursts are generated when protogalaxies collapse into supermassive black holes, the galaxy's material releasing its gravitational potential energy as electromagnetic radiation.

The current theory is that gamma ray bursts are generated when protogalaxies collapse into supermassive black holes.
The current theory is that gamma ray bursts are generated when protogalaxies collapse into supermassive black holes.

The Compton Gamma Ray Observatory is famous for discovering a phenomenon known as soft gamma repeaters, similar to gamma ray bursts but at less intensity and in a cyclical fashion. The current theory is that soft gamma repeaters are magnetars, a type of neutron star with a powerful magnetic field. These objects release gamma ray jets from their north and south poles. When one of these poles points at Earth, we pick up gamma rays.

In 1994, Compton discovered a new terrestrial source of gamma rays — thunder clouds. During its service time, Compton also completed a survey of pulsars and supernova remnants.

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime AllTheScience contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

Learn more...
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime AllTheScience contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

Learn more...

You might also Like

Discuss this Article

Post your comments
Login:
Forgot password?
Register:
    • Carried by the Space Shuttle Atlantis, Compton was the heaviest payload ever launched at the time.
      By: Kim Warden
      Carried by the Space Shuttle Atlantis, Compton was the heaviest payload ever launched at the time.
    • The current theory is that gamma ray bursts are generated when protogalaxies collapse into supermassive black holes.
      By: DR
      The current theory is that gamma ray bursts are generated when protogalaxies collapse into supermassive black holes.