Feeds

Swift blasts off on dying star mission

Spot the gamma ray burst

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

Swift, a satellite space lab that will hunt and study the most violent explosions ever seen in the universe, has finally launched from Cape Canaveral. It was originally schedule to launch on 8 November, but various set-backs meant that it wasn't until 12:16 (EST) on 20 November, that Swift finally got off the ground.

The craft separated from the Delta second stage about 80 minutes after launch, NASA said, and has sent back signals confirming that its solar arrays are properly deployed.

"It's a thrill that Swift is in orbit. We expect to detect and analyse more than 100 gamma-ray bursts a year. These are the most powerful explosions in the universe, and I can't wait to learn more about them," said Swift principal investigator Dr. Neil Gehrels. The satellite is charged with spotting gamma ray bursts. These are very short lived, but massively powerful signals, thought to be produced when very massive stars go supernova and leave a black hole behind. They might also be the evidence of a collision between two neutron stars. One of Swift's tasks is to gather enough data that scientists can work out exactly what does cause these huge explosions.

Swift gets off the ground (Image: NASA)

One of the reasons GRBs are important is that they tell us so much about the early universe. The explosions are so bright that they could be detected as far back as the earliest five percent of the universe's life time. A star must collapse, or two stars must collide to produce one, their presence is conclusive proof of star formation. This gives us an insight into when stars began forming, and what the universe must have been like, billions of years ago.

NASA describes catching Gamma Ray Bursts (GRBs) as being harder than bottling light. The bursts are very short lived: lasting from less than a second to just a few minutes. Catching one in the act, then, is a difficult task, especially when getting ground based telescopes pointing the right way can even take a number of days.

Swift has been designed to detect the gamma ray burst, and respond within 20-70 seconds. It will swing around to face the direction of the signal and will pinpoint the source. It carries three instruments: the Burst Alert Telescope (BAT), the X-Ray telescope, and the Optical and UV telescope. Each one in turn will give astronomers more accurate data about where to look in the sky, and ground based telescopes can join the hunt too.

The satellite will now begin a month-long calibration period. It will check that all its instruments work, and that it can swivel around in its orbit without pointing its cameras at the sun.

Scientists expect the satellite will make many discoveries once it become fully operation in March or April next year, because it can respond to any astronomical phenomenon. While Swift is not actively tracking a GRB, it will conduct the largest ever X-Ray survey of the sky.

The NASA site following Swift's progress can be found here. ®

Related stories

NASA re-schedules Swift launch
Supernova revealed in gamma rays
ESA's lunar probe closes on target

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
That glass of water you just drank? It was OLDER than the SUN
One MEELLION years older. Some of it anyway
GRAV WAVE DRAMA: 'Big Bang echo' may have been grit on the scanner – boffins
Exit Planet Dust on faster-than-light expansion of universe
SpaceX Dragon cargo truck flies 3D printer to ISS: Clawdown in 3, 2...
Craft berths at space station with supplies, experiments, toys
Big dinosaur wowed females with its ENORMOUS HOOTER
That's right, Doris, I've got biggest snout in the prehistoric world
Japanese volcano eruption reportedly leaves 31 people presumed dead
Hopes fade of finding survivors on Mount Ontake
Relive the death of Earth over and over again in Extinction Game
Apocalypse now, and tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that ...
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.