Gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) are the most powerful explosions the Universe has seen since the Big Bang. They occur approximately once per day and are brief, but intense, flashes of gamma radiation. They come from all different directions of the sky and last from a few milliseconds to a few hundred seconds. So far scientists do not know what causes them. Do they signal the birth of a black hole in a massive stellar explosion? Are they the product of the collision of two neutron stars? Or is it some other exotic phenomenon that causes these bursts?
With Swift, a NASA mission with international participation, scientists have a tool dedicated to answering these questions and solving the gamma-ray burst mystery. Its three instruments give scientists the ability to scrutinize gamma-ray bursts like never before. Within seconds of detecting a burst, Swift relays its location to ground stations, allowing both ground-based and space-based telescopes around the world the opportunity to observe the burst's afterglow. Swift is part of NASA's medium explorer (MIDEX) program and was launched into a low-Earth orbit on a Delta 7320 rocket on November 20, 2004. The Principal Investigator is Dr. Neil Gehrels (NASA-GSFC).
All Swift systems are operating normally.
On 2015 September 14 the Advanced LIGO experiment detected with high significance its first signal of gravitational waves (GWs). The event, dubbed GW150914, lasted only 0.2 s and was likely produced by the merger of two heavy black holes, about 30 times the mass of the Sun. Despite the event's poor localization (~590 square degrees), a large number of space-based and ground-based observatories pointed at that region of the sky in order to detect the electromagnetic signal emitted by the GW source. Swift observations were focused on nearby galaxies within the GW error region. No new sources were found in the 4.7 square degrees that were covered. A paper describing the results of the Swift campaign is now accepted for publication on MNRAS Letters.
Swift Cycle 12 Recommended Targets and Proposals have been posted.
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NASA's Swift spacecraft has detected its 1,000th gamma-ray burst (GRB). GRBs are the most powerful explosions in the universe, typically associated with the collapse of a massive star and the birth of a black hole.
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