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The Question

(Submitted April 17, 1998)

Can you tell me who some of the pioneers of X-ray astronomy were? I've looked at the resources that give a bit of history of rocket-born and satellite work, but I was wondering about the astronomers/astrophysicists who started the field of study.

The Answer

X-ray astronomy began after WWII when a large number of captured V2 rockets were made available to scientists for small experiments in sub-orbital flight. The led to detection of X-rays from the Sun by Herbert Friedman (Naval Research Laboratory) and collaborators in the 1950s. The bigger event was the detection of X-rays from Sco X-1 by a rocket flight (not a V2) in 1962 by Bruno Rossi, Riccardo Giacconi, and Frank Paolini (MIT). They were supposedly looking for X-ray fluorescence off of the moon, an effect which wasn't actually observed until 30 years later with the ROSAT satellite. Giacconi went on to promote X-ray astronomy at American Science and Engineering and the Harvard Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, which led to the UHURU and HEAO 1 and 2 satellites.

I assume you have looked at our lab history page:

http://astrophysics.gsfc.nasa.gov/xrays/history.html

Tim Kallman
for 'Ask an Astrophysicist'

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