NASA’s Copernicus satellite set a new bar in space astronomy 50 years ago

(ORDO NEWS) — On August 21, 1972, the NASA Copernicus satellite (Orbital Astronomical Observatory-3) was launched into orbit – the heaviest and most complex space telescope of its time.

Equipped with four X-ray instruments and the largest ultraviolet telescope ever in orbit, Copernicus was NASA’s first multi-wavelength astronomical observatory.

The main instrument aboard the Copernicus was the Princeton Experiment Package telescope, which captured UV light with a 0.8-meter mirror.

The X-ray experiment was led by Robert Boyd of University College London. X-ray telescopes experienced significant difficulties in orbit.

The long wave detectors were unable to function properly due to an unexpectedly high level of background radiation. More recent instruments have added a filter tuned to absorb ultraviolet radiation but let X-rays through.

In June 1973, scientists noticed a shutter problem in three X-ray telescopes. The device was used to intermittently block X-rays so that scientists could monitor the change in background radiation in different parts of the orbit.

Fearing that the bolt might remain in the closed position, the group decided to stop using it. But the last command did not pass, and the sash remained closed, blinding the instruments. The fourth detector, not attached to the telescope, continued to operate throughout the flight.

X-ray telescopes have detected several long period pulsars, including X Perseus. They also carried out long-term monitoring of pulsars and other bright sources, observed the explosion of Nova Cygni 1975.

The satellite also recorded X-rays emanating from the Centaurus A galaxy, located at a distance of 12 million light years from us.

Copernicus retired in 1981 after more advanced observatories such as the International Ultraviolet Explorer and the Einstein Observatory were launched in 1978 and operated for almost 19 years.

Copernicus’ observations appeared in more than 650 scientific papers, its instruments investigated about 450 unique objects, and the data obtained from it were studied by 160 researchers from 14 countries.


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