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A Tribute to the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory

Deployment of CGRO by STS 37

The second of NASA's great observatories, the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory (CGRO) spent nearly 10 years of performing gamma-ray observations of celestial objects from April 1991 to June 2000. The Compton Observatory introduced us to a little-known world of gamma-ray bursts, exotic pulsars, and blazing active galaxies. Indeed, the Compton Observatory defined gamma-ray astronomy, illuminating for us the most energetic, violent events that the universe can dish out. The observatory's four main instruments (BATSE, OSSE, COMPTEL and EGRET) captured an unprecedented chunk of the electromagnetic pie, covering a broader range of energy than any other observatory at the time – six orders of magnitude, a million times wider than the optical range. Compton's greatest hits are equally as broad.

Compton's proof is in the numbers. The Observatory recorded approximately 400 gamma-ray sources, where before Compton, only about 40 were known. BATSE detected over 2,700 fleeting gamma-ray bursts; before Compton, only about 300 had been detected. During the mission there were roughly 180 Compton-specific professional science journal articles per year, about one every other day. Check out the links below for more on the mission and some of its scientific highlights.

Published: May 2000
Text Reviewed: September 2018