Gamma ray scientists are losing observing time on another orbiting observatory. Last month, NASA announced it would destroy the 10-year-old Compton Gamma Ray Observatory due to faulty gyroscopes (Science, 31 March, p. 2393 ). Now, the 4-year-old Italian-Dutch BeppoSAX satellite is trimming operations due to budget problems.
The Italian Space Agency on 15 April began shutting down BeppoSAX's instruments on Saturday and Sunday nights, and staff will no longer work around the clock. As a result, astronomers will not be able to react as quickly as they'd like to some gamma ray bursts, the high-energy explosions that occur about once a day in the far reaches of the universe. On 16 April, for instance, BeppoSAX missed a chance to study the afterglow of one unusual burst, notes mission scientist Luigi Piro of the Institute for Space Astrophysics in Rome. "It's a pity," adds John Heise of the Space Research Organization Netherlands in Utrecht.
Heise expects BeppoSAX to be shut down permanently in April 2001. But gamma ray bursts will still be monitored by a network of interplanetary satellites, including the NEAR Shoemaker spacecraft orbiting the asteroid Eros, notes Jerry Fishman of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. And a new gamma ray observatory, NASA's High Energy Transient Explorer, is slated for launch within a few months.