|Back to News Release Index|
For Release: Jan. 9, 1997
NOTE TO EDITORS: 97-001
TWO MARSHALL EXPERIMENTS NAMED AS TOP SCIENCE
Reviewing a year of science discoveries, two national science publications have cited Marshall Space Flight Center science efforts as ranking among the top science stories of 1996.
The clearest images ever taken of the "northern lights" or aurora -- snapped by a specially designed camera developed at Marshall -- were recognized as a top story of 1996 by Discover magazine.
Science News, in its year-end issue, named among the year's most important science stories the discovery by Marshall astronomers that gamma-ray bursts sometimes repeat. These multiple flashes of high-energy radiation, said the magazine, may help shed light on the origins of the mysterious bursts.
Discover, in its special January issue, spotlights the Marshall Center's project to capture clear pictures of Earth's aurora. For centuries, people living near the polar regions have viewed the shimmering curtains of light which occur when electrons and ions, guided by the magnetic field, strike molecules in the Earth's upper atmosphere. The light produced by aurorae, though, is usually far too faint to be seen in the daylight.
But scientists at the Marshall Center -- in a joint effort with the University of Alabama in Huntsville and Science and Engineering Associates in Huntsville -- developed a camera that filters out all of the light except the auroral emissions themselves.
Called the Ultraviolet Imager, the camera and its electronic support package were manufactured, assembled and tested at Marshall. On Feb. 24, 1996, the camera, mounted on a satellite named POLAR, was launched on a Delta II rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.
Day and night, the camera detects the ultraviolet light of the aurora, and transmits what it sees back to Earth -- yielding images of "unprecedented clarity," according to Discover magazine.
Discovery of the gamma-ray multi-bursts by Marshall astronomers continues to stir debate in the scientific community.
The bursts were detected by NASA's orbiting Gamma-Ray Observatory last October. One of four instruments on board the observatory is the Burst and Transient Source Experiment, a detector developed at Marshall.
Typically, the experiment detects an average of one gamma-ray burst daily -- each lasting from 10 to 30 seconds. The locations of these events appear to be randomly distributed. But what made the multi-bursts seen last October so unusual was that they came from the same part of the sky, one after another, during a one-and-a-half day interval. The final burst lasted for 23 minutes -- another highly unusual occurrence.
A team of Marshall astronomers continues to analyze and interpret information collected by the gamma-ray detector daily.