The Swift Gamma-Ray Burst Mission Italian site U.K. site

Top High-Energy Astronomy Prize Awarded for Swift Discoveries

Dr. Ilana Harrus
High Energy Astrophysics Division Press Officer
imh@lheapop.gsfc.nasa.gov
1-301-286-9649

Dr. Neil Gehrels
Neil.Gehrels@nasa.gov
1-301-286-6546

January 16, 2007 - HEAD Press Release for Rossi Prize

This year's prestigious Bruno Rossi Prize has been awarded to Neil Gehrels and the team of scientists working on NASA's Swift Gamma-Ray Burst Explorer mission. The prize is the top award given each year by the High Energy Astrophysics Division (HEAD) of the American Astronomical Society (AAS), the largest professional organization of astronomers in the United States.

Swift, which launched on November 20, 2004, was designed to rapidly detect, locate, and observe gamma-ray bursts (GRBs), powerful cosmic explosions which astronomers think are the birth cries of black holes. GRBs were first observed in the 1960s, and were a complete mystery until the mid 1990s. To date, Swift has detected over 200 GRBs, and its rapid response - it was named after the bird, which catches its prey "on the fly" - has been critical to understanding these titanic events.

"This is a great recognition of all the wonderful science coming from Swift and the years of hard work that the team has done to make it possible," said Neil Gehrels, the Principal Investigator for the Swift mission. "Swift is a remarkable machine which is still going strong. We expect even more great things from it over the coming years."

Among Swift's notable observations have been:

  1. The first detection of an afterglow (the lingering, fading glow) of a short burst, GRB050509, thought to be caused by the collision of two ultradense neutron stars.
  2. The detection of the most distant GRB ever seen (GRB 050904), lying at a distance of 13 billion light years from the Earth.
  3. The discovery of the nearby GRB 060218 that was coincident with a supernova explosion (SN 2006aj)
  4. X-ray observations of NASA's Deep Impact probe when it smashed into comet 9/P Tempel 1 in July 2005, helping solar system scientists determine how much debris was ejected by the impact.
  5. Highly-detailed data of a powerful flare from a nearby magnetar, a tremendously magnetic neutron star, which was so bright it saturated Swift's detectors and actually physically impacted the Earth's magnetic field in December 2004.

Besides observing GRBs, Swift has several secondary scientific goals, including observing supernovae (powerful stellar explosions which can be used to map out the shape and fate of the Universe) and making the first high-energy survey of the entire sky since the 1980s.

The HEAD-AAS awards the Rossi Prize in recognition of significant contributions as well as recent and original work in high-energy astrophysics. Past awards have been given for work, both theoretical and observational, in the fields of neutrinos, cosmic rays, gamma rays and X-rays. The prize is in honor of Professor Bruno Rossi, an authority on cosmic-ray physics and a pioneer in the field of X-ray astronomy. Bruno Rossi died in 1993. The prize also includes an engraved certificate and a $1,500 award.

Swift is a medium-class explorer mission managed by NASA Goddard in Greenbelt, Md., for the Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Swift is operated by Penn State University, using a ground station of the Italian Space Agency in Kenya. NASA's Swift mission was built with the participation of the Italian Space Agency and the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) in the United Kingdom and in collaboration with national laboratories, universities and international partners, including Penn State University, Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico; the University of Leicester, in Leicester, UK and University College London's Mullard Space Science Laboratory in Dorking, Surrey, UK; and the Brera Observatory of the University of Milan and ASI Science Data Center in Rome, Italy. Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, California leads the Education and Public Outreach program for Swift. The Swift spacecraft was built by General Dynamics C4 Division, Spectrum Astro, in Gilbert, Arizona.

For more information on Swift, visit http://swift.gsfc.nasa.gov, and for a list of Swift's significant observation see http://swift.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/swift/results/releases/. Rossi Prize information is located at http://www.aas.org/head/rossi/rossi.prize.html.

The exact citation reads:

The 2007 Rossi Prize of the High Energy Astrophysics Division of the American Astronomical Society is awarded to Neil Gehrels and the Swift team for major advances in the scientific understanding of gamma-ray bursts. These include ground-breaking observations to determine precise location of short gamma-ray bursts, and the discovery of enormously bright X-ray flares in the early afterglows.