BeppoSAX – The enigma of the Gamma-ray bursts
One of the greatest successes of the recent scientific history Italian, BeppoSAX (Satellite per Astronomia X, “Beppo” as the nickname the Italian astronomer Giuseppe Goggles, one of the pioneers of the study of cosmic rays) was born of a collaboration between the Agency Italian Space agency (ASI) and the Netherlands Agency for aerospace programs (NIVR).
Launched on April 30, 1996, BeppoSAX was originally scheduled to stay in operation until 1998. Instead, it remained operational for seven years until April 29 of 2003, when it has been dropped into the Pacific Ocean. More than the duration, it was the fallout of the scientific mission was to be exceptional. Already in 2002, when the mission was drawing to a close, there were more than 1500 scientific publications based on data provided by BeppoSAX.
The fundamental purpose of the mission was to study the cosmic emissions of X-rays, but they were impossible to study from the Earth due to shielding of the Earth’s atmosphere. In particular, it wanted to contribute to the study of those cosmic phenomena that emit radiation at the same time on a wide range of energy levels, groped to understand its mechanisms astrophysicists.
The trump card of BeppoSAX was precisely the spectral coverage (the range of energy levels of emissions observable) particularly wide, which ranged from 0.1 to 200 keV. This was the first mission capable of studying X-ray sources on an energy range as wide. This way SAX could contribute to the study of a wide variety of cosmic phenomena as compact galactic sources, active galactic nuclei, clusters of galaxies, supernova remnants, normal galaxies, stars, gamma ray bursts.
The greatest successes have come from the observation of the Gamma Ray Burst (GRB), ‘flashes’ of very high energy gamma rays coming from the Universe that before this mission, they had always been an enigma to astrophysicists. Revealing the X-ray emission that accompanies the band range, BeppoSAX has allowed the reconstruction of some fundamental pieces of the puzzle. Throughout its life, the satellite observed more than thirty gamma ray bursts, and their appearance was able to launch immediately alert signals to other space or terrestrial instruments. Guided by BeppoSAX observations, astronomers from around the world have discovered that these mysterious gamma-ray bursts come from very remote galaxies, and have an energy equal to that which would be obtained in light annihilating all the mass of our Sun, in a few moments. They are, in other words, the biggest explosions of the Universe after the Big Bang.
The great skill displayed in this field by the scientific and technological Italian (continued with the launch of the satellite for gamma astronomy AGILE) ensured Italy a leading role also in the SWIFT mission, which NASA hopes to permanently solve the mystery of gamma-ray bursts.
AGILE (Astro‐Rivelatore Gamma a Immagini Leggero) is an X-ray and Gamma ray astronomical satellite of the Italian Space Agency (ASI). AGILE’s mission is to observe gamma-ray sources in the universe. Key scientific objectives of the AGILE Mission include the study of: Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN), Gamma-Ray bursts, X-ray and gamma galactic sources, non-identified gamma sources, diffuse galactic gamma emissions, diffuse extra-galactic gamma emissions and fundamental physics.