21-year mission concludes as NASA's solar observatory re-enters Earth's atmosphere.
NASA’s Reuven Ramaty High Energy Solar Spectroscopic Imager (RHESSI) spacecraft re-entered Earth’s atmosphere on April 19, nearly 21 years after its launch. RHESSI’s mission, from 2002 to 2018, focused on observing solar flares from low-Earth orbit, contributing to scientists’ understanding of the powerful energy bursts, according to a statement from NASA.
NASA spacecraft crashes into the Sahara
The Department of Defense confirmed that the 660-pound spacecraft re-entered the atmosphere over the Sahara Desert. While most of the spacecraft burned up during re-entry, some components were expected to survive.
Pioneering Solar Flare Imaging
The spacecraft’s mission involved imaging high-energy electrons in solar flares using its imaging spectrometer, which recorded X-rays and gamma rays from the Sun. This marked the first time gamma-ray, and high-energy X-ray images of solar flares were captured.
Decoding Solar Flare Mysteries
Data from RHESSI provided essential insights into solar flares and their associated coronal mass ejections. These events release immense energy into the solar atmosphere and can disrupt Earth’s electrical systems. RHESSI’s findings helped researchers understand the frequency, location, and movement of energetic particles in solar flares.
Unveiling Diverse Solar Phenomena
RHESSI documented solar flare sizes, from tiny nanoflares to massive superflares, and made unrelated discoveries, such as improving measurements of the Sun’s shape and revealing that terrestrial gamma-ray flashes are more common than previously thought.
After 16 years of operations, NASA decommissioned RHESSI due to communication difficulties. RHESSI was part of NASA’s Small Explorers mission, managed and operated by the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.