Feeds

Swift blasts off on dying star mission

Spot the gamma ray burst

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Build a business case: developing custom apps

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

Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable

More from The Register

next story
World Solar Challenge contender claims new speed record
One charge sees Sunswift travel 500kms at over 100 km/h
SMELL YOU LATER, LOSERS – Dumbo tells rats, dogs... humans
Junk in the trunk? That's what people have
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
Bad back? Show some spine and stop popping paracetamol
Study finds common pain-killer doesn't reduce pain or shorten recovery
Forty-five years ago: FOOTPRINTS FOUND ON MOON
NASA won't be back any time soon, sadly
Jurassic squawk: Dinos were Earth's early FEATHERED friends
Boffins research: Ancient dinos may all have had 'potential' fluff
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.