June 24 – Launch of FUSE (1999)

FUSE (the Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Observer) was launched using a Delta II vehicle (number 7320) on June 24th 1999 from Cape Canaveral.  (Unnecessary aside: cañaveral is Spanish for reed bed.)

FUSE provided value for money, for a change.  Designed to operate for three years, it actually kept going for eight, until a failure in the system used to point it accurately at targets rendered it effectively useless in September 2007.

FUSE (image: NASA)
FUSE (image: NASA)

FUSE was part of NASA’s ongoing Origins program, a collection of space- and Earth-bound observations designed to help get rid of some of those pesky, really fundamental questions about the Universe that are proving so hard to answer (such as where it came from, and whether anybody else lives in it).

The main aims of FUSE in this were to study (i) the amount of deuterium (a hydrogen isotope) out there, and (ii) the chemical evolution of galaxies. FUSE was able to study over 3000 targets during its eight year life; not just distant galaxies and quasars either, but also stars, planets and comets.

The idea behind using FUSE to measure deuterium was (very basically) that the amount we can measure today might be used to determine the conditions present at a stage in the evolution of the Universe before atoms as we know them today existed.

1852  –  S-type asteroid 18 Melpomene (the Greek muse of tragedy) discovered by John Russell Hind.

1915  –  Birth of Sir Fred Hoyle, in Gilstead, a village on the outskirts of Bingley, Yorkshire.  Sir Fred was no shrinking violet when it came to expounding his views.  He was opposed to the idea that life on Earth began here from scratch, had his own theory of gravity (disproved) and preferred the “steady state” theory of the universe rather than the stupendously more popular “Big Bang”.  Ironically though, Hoyle is credited with coining the phrase big bang.