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 June 22, 2016, the Burst Alert Telescope aboard NASA's Swift satellite captured the release of a short burst of X-rays from the supernova remnant RCW 103. This burst of high-energy radiation was likely produced by the neutron star at the center of the remnant, known as 1E 161348-5055. The Swift detection caught astronomers' attention because the source exhibited intense, extremely rapid fluctuations on a time scale of milliseconds, similar to other type of neutron stars known as magnetars. These exotic objects possess the most powerful magnetic fields in the Universe - trillions of times that of the Earth - and can erupt with enormous amounts of energy. New and archival data from Swift, Chandra, and NuSTAR confirmed that 1E 1613 has the properties of a magnetar, making it only the 30th known. The source is rotating once every 24,000 seconds (6.67 hours), much slower than the slowest magnetars known until now, which spin around once every 10 seconds. This would also make it the slowest spinning neutron star ever detected.
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Gamma-ray bursts, or GRBs, are some of the most violent and energetic events in the Universe. Although these events are the most luminous explosions in the universe, a new study using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, NASA's Swift satellite and other telescopes suggests that scientists may be missing a majority of these powerful cosmic detonations. Astronomers think that some GRBs are the product of the collision and merger of two neutron stars or a neutron star and a black hole. The new research gives the best evidence to date that such collisions will generate a very narrow beam, or jet, of gamma rays. If such a narrow jet is not pointed toward Earth, the GRB produced by the collision will not be detected.
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