The Swift Gamma-Ray Burst Mission
Credit: NASA E/PO, Sonoma State University, Aurore Simonnet
Gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) are the most powerful explosions the Universe has seen since the Big Bang. They occur approximately once per day and are brief, but intense, flashes of gamma radiation. They come from all different directions of the sky and last from a few milliseconds to a few hundred seconds. So far scientists do not know what causes them. Do they signal the birth of a black hole in a massive stellar explosion? Are they the product of the collision of two neutron stars? Or is it some other exotic phenomenon that causes these bursts?
With Swift, scientists will now have a tool dedicated to answering these questions and solving the gamma-ray burst mystery. Its three instruments will give scientists the ability to scrutinize gamma-ray bursts like never before. Within seconds of detecting a burst, Swift will relay a burst's location to ground stations, allowing both ground-based and space-based telescopes around the world the opportunity to observe the burst's afterglow. Swift is part of NASA's medium explorer (MIDEX) program and was launched into a low-Earth orbit on a Delta 7320 rocket on November 20, 2004.
For more information, visit the Swift Homepage (http://swift.gsfc.nasa.gov/).