Feeds

Swift observatory sends back stunning test shot

Gamma-Ray hunters ready for action

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Build a business case: developing custom apps

The final instrument on board Swift, the satellite launched in November last year to hunt for gamma-ray bursts, has been switched on, and the space lab is now fully operational. The ultra-violet optical telescope (UVOT) has sent its first picture back to Earth, and is poised to snap its first gamma-ray burst.

The Pinwheel Galaxy

The false colour image is of the Pinwheel galaxy, M101, regarded by many as the perfect spiral galaxy. The picture shows hot, star forming regions on the arms of the galaxy, while the centre is older, and cooler.

The picture was created by combining light from several of the UVOT's filters, all the way from invisible-to-humans ultraviolet, to the blues and yellows of the visible spectrum. In the image, however, the shortest wavelengths are represented as blue, while the longest are coloured in red.

Swift will investigate gamma-ray-bursts, the most violent, and mysterious explosions in the universe. It has been designed to respond rapidly to detection of gamma rays - within 20-70 seconds. This is vital as the whole explosion can be over in as little as 200 seconds.

Professor Keith Mason, the UK UVOT lead at University College London commented: "The UVOT isn't as powerful as [observatories like Hubble, or Keck], but has the advantage of observing from the very dark skies of space. Moreover, it will start observing the burst afterglow within minutes, as opposed to the day or week long delay inherent with heavily used observatories. This is extremely important because the bulk of the afterglow fades within hours."

The UVOT is the third of Swift's observing instruments that will come into play, after the Burst Alert Telescope and the X-Ray Telescope. It can pinpoint a gamma ray source to sub-arcsecond accuracy, the equivalent of the eye of a needle held at arms length, PPARC (Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council) helpfully informs us.

It will reveal more about the behaviour of this ultraviolet afterglow, such as the temperature and velocity of material ejected during the explosion. Knowing how the afterglow is shaped, and how it fades will give researchers an insight into the explosion that preceded it.

Peter Roming, UVOT lead scientist at Penn State, notes that we know next to nothing about this stage of a burst. "This is because the atmosphere blocks most ultraviolet rays from reaching telescopes on Earth, and there have been few ultraviolet telescopes in orbit. We simply haven't yet reached a burst fast enough with a UV telescope." ®

Related stories

Swift blasts off on dying star mission
ESA's lunar probe closes on target
Supernova revealed in gamma rays

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
LOHAN packs bags for SPACEPORT AMERICA!
Spanish launch goes titsup, we're off to the US of A
Gigantic toothless 'DRAGONS' dominated Earth's early skies
Gummy pterosaurs outlived toothy competitors
'Leccy racer whacks petrols in Oz race
ELMOFO rakes in two wins in sanctioned race
Boffins ID freakish spine-smothered prehistoric critter: The CLAW gave it away
Bizarre-looking creature actually related to velvet worms
CRR-CRRRK, beep, beep: Mars space truck backs out of slippery sand trap
Curiosity finds new drilling target after course correction
Astronomers scramble for obs on new comet
Amateur gets fifth confirmed discovery
Boffins build CYBORG-MOTHRA but not for evil: For search & rescue
This tiny bio-bot will chew through your clothes then save your life
Vulture 2 takes a battering in 100km/h test run
Still in one piece, but we're going to need MORE POWER
What does a flashmob of 1,024 robots look like? Just like this
Sorry, Harvard, did you say kilobots or KILLER BOTS?
prev story

Whitepapers

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 10 endpoint backup mistakes
Avoid the ten endpoint backup mistakes to ensure that your critical corporate data is protected and end user productivity is improved.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.