Distribution and Detection of Positrons from an Orbiting Nuclear Reactor

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Science  28 Apr 1989:
Vol. 244, Issue 4903, pp. 448-451
DOI: 10.1126/science.244.4903.448

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The Solar Maximum Mission (SMM) Gamma-Ray Spectrometer has on many occasions detected nuclear radiation produced by nuclear reactors carried on Soviet satellites. A unique feature of the observations is the measurement of bursts of 511—kiloelectron volt gamma rays that are thought to signal SMM encounters with positrons emanating from the Soviet satellites. A model of positron generation by an orbiting reactor has been developed that describes the resulting time-dependent distribution of positrons temporarily trapped in the geomagnetic field and estimates the response of the SMM spectrometer to passage through such distributions. The model successfully predicts onset times, durations, and intensities of the 511—kiloelectron volt gamma bursts, as we illustrate in a detailed analysis of one event, and thus confirms that these are due to positrons from the Soviet satellites. Reactor-generated positrons are potentially useful in magnetospheric research.

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