Swift satellite spots its thousandth gamma-ray burst

Leicester scientists are celebrating the discovery of the 1,000th gamma-ray burst (GRB) by the US/UK/Italian Swift spacecraft.

GRBs are the most powerful explosions in the universe, typically associated with the collapse of a massive star and the birth of a black hole. A GRB is a fleeting blast of high-energy light, often lasting a minute or less, occurring somewhere in the sky every couple of days. Scientists are looking for exceptional bursts that offer the deepest insights into the extreme physical processes at work.

The Department of Physics and Astronomy provided the X-ray camera for Swift, and have been making discoveries with it since it was launched into orbit in November 2004.

"Swift has been a fabulous discovery machine, finding previously unknown types of outbursts from stars, galaxies and from gamma-ray bursts themselves," said Professor Julian Osborne. "It's great to see our contributions having such a big impact."

Shortly before 10:41 p.m. on Oct. 27, Swift's Burst Alert Telescope detected the 1,000th GRB as a sudden pulse of gamma rays arising from a location toward the constellation Eridanus. Astronomers dubbed the event GRB 151027B, after the detection date and the fact that it was the second burst of the day. Swift automatically determined its location, broadcast the position to astronomers around the world, and turned to investigate the source with its own sensitive X-ray, ultraviolet and optical telescopes.  

Swift is managed by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, the mission operations center is run by Penn State University in the US. In addition to the University of Leicester, which provides the UK Swift Science Data Centre, Swift partners include the UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory, and the Italian Space Agency and Brera Observatory in Italy. Funding for Swift in the UK is provided by the UK Space Agency.

Watch a video about the Swift GRB Detector 10th Anniversary with Professor Alan Wells:

Watch a video about the SWIFT Gama-ray Burst Mission with Dr Kim Page:

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