500 bursts and counting
Credit: NASA/Swift/Francis Reddy

The Swift 500

The Swift mission recently achieved an outstanding milestone - the detection and discovery of its 500th Gamma-ray burst, GRB 100413B, on April 13, 2010. As you no doubt recall, Swift is NASA's special multi-national space observatory, launched in November 2004 and designed to detect and quickly localize the positions of Gamma-ray bursts. Gamma-ray bursts, or GRBs, are mysteriously powerful explosions from deep space, believed to signal the final destruction of a star. Swift's unique capability lies in its wide sky coverage, its rapid response time, and its exceptional angular resolution. During its nearly six year mission, Swift has re-written the textbook on our understanding of Gamma-ray bursts. Swift has detected the farthest known burst, a blast that occurred when the Universe was only one-twentieth of its present age. Swift also detected a burst that was bright enough to be seen by the unaided eye, even though it happened more than half-way across the visible Universe. Swift also has provided crucial data on difficult to catch "short bursts", those that last for only a few seconds or less. The information provided by Swift on these quick flashes of Gamma-rays have helped scientists constrain the blast mechanism and suggests that these short bursts represent the drastic final collision between two gravitationally collapsed objects in ever-shrinking orbits. All the while also obtaining, in its spare time, detailed X-ray and ultraviolet studies of stars, supernovae, and active galaxies. And still going strong!
Published: June 7, 2010

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Page Author: Dr. Michael F. Corcoran

Last modified Sunday, 13-Jun-2010 21:35:10 EDT