Man-Made Transients Observed by the Gamma-Ray Spectrometer on the Solar Maximum Mission Satellite

+ See all authors and affiliations

Science  28 Apr 1989:
Vol. 244, Issue 4903, pp. 441-444
DOI: 10.1126/science.244.4903.441


Since launch in early 1980 the Gamma-Ray Spectrometer (GRS) onboard the Solar Maximum Mission (SMM) satellite has monitored the sun at gamma-ray energies. In addition to observations of solar flares, cosmic gamma-ray bursts, and precipitating radiation belt electrons, the instrument has detected a new class of high-energy transient events that cannot be attributed to any of these phenomena. The duration of these transients can range from 1 second to more than 10 minutes. The average event rate between 1980 and 1986 was about five per month. However, in February 1987 this rate increased by more than a factor of 25 and continued at this high level until June 1988. These transients can be subdivided into three classes: (i) 0.511-megaelectron volt annihilation line events, (ii) particle events, and (iii) broad-band photon continuum—like events. Evidence is presented that these transients are not of natural origin. It is found that the most likely sources of these events are reactors in earth orbiting satellites. Apart from the threat these reactors pose upon accidental reentry, the reactor-generated transients may have a deleterious effect on cosmic observations obtained with gamma-ray detectors in low earth orbit.

Related Content