X-Ray Sources: Sco X-1



These devices were flown on rockets to measure celestial X-rays. An electric signal that corresponds to the light collected by the telescope is produced and measured. The Geiger counter usually contains a metal tube with a thin metal wire along its middle, the space in between sealed off and filled with a suitable gas, and with the wire at about +1000 volts relative to the tube. An ion or electron penetrating the tube (or an electron knocked out of the wall by X-rays or gamma rays) tears electrons off atoms in the gas. Because of the high positive voltage of the central wire,these electrons are then attracted to it. In doing so they gain energy, collide with atoms and release more electrons, until the process snowballs into an "avalanche" which produces an easily detectable pulse of current. With a suitable filling gas,the flow of electricity stops by itself, or else the electrical circuitry can help stop it.

The instrument was called a "counter" because every particle passing it produced an identical pulse, allowing particles to be counted but with no information about their energy (except that they must have sufficient energy to penetrate the walls of the counter).

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