Since the mid-1960s, the Geological Survey of Canada had been conducting research into the design and use of airborne gamma ray spectrometers to support geological mapping, mineral exploration, and environmental radiation monitoring. This expertise was put to a completely different use in January 1978 when the nuclear-powered Soviet satellite Cosmos 954 lost orbit and crashed to earth over the Northwest Territories.
Code-named Operation Morning Light, an immediate search and clean-up of radioactive debris was pulled together, involving hundreds of personnel from the Canadian military and government agencies, and a 120-person US Nuclear Emergency Search Team.
The airborne gamma ray spectrometer, designed, built, and operated by Survey scientists, made the first identification of radioactive debris from the satellite on the frozen surface of Great Slave Lake about 43 kilometres north-west of Fort Reliance. This spectrometer system included full spectrum recording that enabled gamma rays from man-made isotopes to be separated from those originating from naturally occurring radioactive isotopes.
The Survey scientists brought important expertise acquired from over ten years of conducting surveys for naturally occurring radioactive materials in similar harsh environments under the Survey’s Uranium Reconnaissance Program, during which they had worked in the Operation Morning Light search area.
Bristow, Q., 1978. The application of airborne gamma-ray spectrometry in the search for radioactive debris from the Russian satellite Cosmos 954 (Operation “Morning Light”); in Current Research, Part B; Geological Survey of Canada, Paper 78-1B, p. 151-162. doi:10.4095/103589
Mungall, Constance, 1978. GSC hunts satellite debris; GEOS, Spring 1978, p. 2-4.
Killeen, P.G., Mwenifumbo, C.J., and Ford, K.L., 2015. Tools and Techniques: Radiometric Methods; in Treatise on Geophysics, 2nd Edition, Volume 11, (ed.) G. Schubert; Elsevier, Oxford, p. 447–524. doi:10.1016/B978-0-444-53802-4.00209-8