NASA RXTE satellite retires after 16 years

On Dec. 30, 1995, NASA’s Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer (RXTE) was launched into orbit on a mission to observe and study X-ray sources in space. For 16 years, the satellite circled Earth, detecting X-rays emitted by some of our galaxy’s most extreme phenomena: bursting pulsars, flaring neutron stars and massive, spinning black holes. The instruments aboard RXTE — including one engineered by MIT researchers — captured data that helped scientists make major discoveries in X-ray astronomy for more than a decade.

Earlier this year, RXTE sent its last data transmission to Earth, and on Jan. 5, NASA decommissioned the aging satellite. Meanwhile, astronomers at MIT and elsewhere will continue to comb through RXTE’s data to gain new understanding of the galaxy’s X-ray-emitting sources.

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