Retired NASA Satellite RHESSI to Plunge into Earth’s Atmosphere – Is It a Menace or a Marvel?

NASA ‘s Reuven Ramaty High Energy Solar Spectroscopic Imager (RHESSI), a satellite launched in 2002, is expected to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere in April, after almost 21 years of operation. The spacecraft is not a threat to humans, and the US space agency has confirmed that the risk of harm to anyone on Earth is low.

RHESSI was designed to observe solar flares and coronal mass ejections from its low-Earth orbit. Providing valuable data on the physics of these powerful energy bursts. Its sole instrument, an imaging spectrometer, recorded X-rays and gamma rays from the Sun. Enabling the first-ever gamma-ray or high-energy X-ray images of solar flares to be taken.

During its 16 years of operation, RHESSI recorded more than 100,000 X-ray events. Helping researchers understand where and how energetic particles in solar flares are accelerated. This data was crucial in improving our understanding of solar flares and their associated coronal mass ejections, which can have significant effects on Earth’s electrical systems.

Apart from its intended mission, RHESSI made several unrelated discoveries. Such as improving measurements of the Sun’s shape. And revealing that bursts of gamma rays emitted from high in Earth’s atmosphere over lightning storms are more common than previously thought.

In 2018, NASA decommissioned RHESSI due to communication difficulties, but the US Department of Defense is still monitoring the spacecraft. Although NASA expects most of the satellites to burn up during re-entry, some components may survive.

The US Department of Defense expects RHESSI to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere at approximately 9:30 p.m. EDT (7 a.m. IST) on Wednesday, although the timings can vary. Despite the possibility of surviving components, NASA has confirmed that the risk of harm to anyone on Earth is low.

In conclusion, RHESSI made significant contributions to solar physics. And its data has helped improve our understanding of solar flares and their effects on Earth. Despite its retirement, RHESSI’s legacy continues to benefit researchers and scientists worldwide.

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