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Original Date: Mon, 5 Jun 2000 04:13:28 -0700
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Burn baby burn
Compton Goes Splash Into Pacific
by Guy Clavel
Washington (AFP) June 4 2000 - The Compton Gamma Ray Observatory,
which had circled the globe for nearly a decade, disintegrated in the
heavens over the Pacific Ocean after being deliberately destroyed for
safety reasons, US space officials said Sunday.
Officials at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
said the 17-tonne observatory began its descent shortly after midnight
Sunday (0400 GMT) and reentered the Earth's atmosphere "as expected"
at 0705 GMT, with debris that survived reentry falling into the ocean
about 4,000 kilometers (2,500 miles) southeast of Hawaii.
"Everything indicates that we hit the target," said a NASA spokesman
at the Goddard center, based in Laurel, Maryland, adding that more
detailed information about the debris that rained down on Earth would
be available over the next 24 hours.
NASA officials said the observatory was too large to be destroyed
entirely by reentering Earth's atmosphere, and that orchestrating an
ocean splashdown was the most prudent course of action.
"This location provides a landing area with a very large margin of
safety," the Goddard Space Flight Center, monitored the satellite,
said in a statement.
The space agency fired up the satellite's engines on Tuesday and
Wednesday to begin the observatory's descent and did so twice again
early Sunday which caused the craft to plunge to Earth.
During its 760-million dollar nine-year mission, the observatory
allowed scientists to study celestial sources of gamma-rays, which are
usually generated by the most violent cataclysms in the universe,
emitting huge amounts of energy.
Thanks to the satellite, astronomers were able to identify more than
400 sources of gamma-rays, a tenfold increase from the period before
it was placed in orbit.
"New discoveries made by Campton changed our view of the Universe in
fundamental ways," said NASA program director Alan Bunner.
Initially, NASA had planned to retire the observatory in 1996, but its
mission was extended by four more years.
However, one of the three gyroscopes which allow the satellite to
maintain its altitude of 511 kilometers (317 miles), broke down
several months ago, and the observatory lacked fuel to move into a
According to scientists, a loss of one of the two remaining devices
would have rendered the satellite uncontrollable and risked creating a
hazard to densely populated areas upon its fall.
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