NASA's Swift satellite detected a rising tide of high-energy X-rays from the constellation Cygnus on June 15, just before 2:32 p.m. EDT. About 10 minutes later, the Japanese experiment on the International Space Station called the Monitor of All-sky X-ray Image (MAXI) also picked up the flare.
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Gamma-ray bursts are traditionally divided in two classes, "long" and "short", based on whether their duration is more or less than two seconds. Long GRB are originated by the collapse of very massive stars, while short GRBs are produced by the collision or merger of two compact objects. In 2006 Swift discovered a hybrid event , the "long-short" GRB 060614, which displayed properties typical of both classes. Astronomers have been trying to understand the nature of this unusual explosion for years.
In a new study published in Nature Communications researchers at the Purple Mountain Observatory, Hebrew University and INAF/Brera Astronomical Observatory found evidence for a short-lived infrared transient - called macronova or kilonova - in the data of GRB 060614. The discovery of a macronova could solve a long-standing puzzle, as it confirms that the gamma-ray burst GRB 060614 came from the merger of a neutron star and a stellar-mass black hole. It also suggests that mergers of compact objects could be the primary sites of production of the heavy elements, such as gold, uranium, and silver.
Type Ia supernovae are violent stellar explosions used by astronomers to measure the accelerating expansion of the Universe. They are commonly theorized to be the thermonuclear explosions of a white dwarf star that is part of a binary system. How this white dwarf goes from binary star system to Type Ia supernova is a vivid matter of debate. New observations made by the Swift satellite provided an unprecedented clue to the origin of Type Ia explosions. The UVOT telescope aboard Swift started observing the Type Ia supernova iPTF14atg only four days after the explosion, and unveiled a bright pulse of ultraviolet emission. This is consistent with theoretical expectations of collision between material being ejected from a supernova explosion and the companion star from which it has been accreting matter. Alternative models, involving the merger of two white dwarfs, are instead disfavored by the Swift data. These results show that early time ultraviolet observations of young supernovae could hold the key to fully understanding the pre-explosion interaction between a supernova's white dwarf progenitor and its companion.
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The Swift Data Center is now reprocessing the Swift data for the entire mission in chronological order using the current version of the SDC pipeline (v. 3.16.08). All the data for 2005 have been reprocessed and delivered to the HEASARC. The archives in Italy and UK are currently populating their archives with the new data. Currently the reprocessing rate is about 3 months per month.
A team of astronomers found that type Ia supernovae commonly used to measure distances in the universe fall into distinct populations not recognized before. The data collected with Swift were crucial because the differences between the populations are subtle in visible light, which had been used to detect type Ia supernovae previously, but became obvious only through Swift's dedicated follow-up observations in the ultraviolet. These findings have important implications for our understanding of how fast the universe has been expanding since the Big Bang: the study concludes that some of the reported acceleration of the universe can be explained by color differences between the two groups of supernovae, leaving less acceleration than initially reported. This would, in turn, require less dark energy than currently assumed.
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On January 15, 2015 the Burst Alert Telescope on-board Swift triggered on a large flare from the RS CVn binary system SZ Psc. Preliminary analysis from the Swift team reports that the observed peak X-ray flux corresponds to an X-ray luminosity of 4.6 x 10^33 erg/s, which is one of the most luminous flares in X-rays ever seen from any active late-type star.
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Swift Cycle 11 Recommended Targets and Proposals have been posted.