Swift Gamma-Ray Burst Explorer

Swift Gamma-Ray Burst Explorer

A NASA space observatory launched by a Boeing Delta 2 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, Nov. 2004. Its three telescopes (one each operating in the gamma-ray, X-ray, and ultraviolet/visible wavelength ranges) will seek to discover the position, brightness, and physical nature of gamma-ray bursts, the most powerful but also the most mysterious explosions in the Universe. What triggers them and what their relationship may be to black holes are also questions that Swift will help to address. Swift is designed for rapid pointing in order to home in on a detected gamma-ray burst as soon as possible after it has happened. Typically, the reaction time is expected to be within 20 and 70 seconds. The wide-field primary Burst Alert Telescope, which can scan about 16% of the sky at a time, will look for gamma-ray bursts and when it detects one the entire Swift craft will turn to target the explosion, bringing the other two telescope to bear on it, Gamma-ray bursts happen at least once a day, and one of Swift's goals is to acquire knowledge on at least 1000 of them over its three-year mission. Much can be learned from the afterglow of gamma-ray bursts, which cascades rapidly down through the wavelengths from gamma rays to radio waves. Thus Swift's three telescopes, with their multi-wavelength capabilities, represent a major advance in the study of these phenomena.
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