Swift is a US/UK/Italian satellite designed to study gamma-ray bursts. Launched on November 20, 2004, it includes a wide area Burst Alert Telescope and narrow field X-ray and UV/optical telescopes. The Swift satellite is unique in that it can autonomously detect gamma ray bursts and re-point within a few seconds, so catching them when they are still bright. Swift has been making detailed observations of around 100 GRBs a year, getting lightcurves and spectra from the time of the burst to up to a hundred days after. A gamma-ray burst signals the creation of a black hole, and GRB research has been at the forefront of high energy astrophysics since this was realised in the late 1990s.

Swift is partly a 'spare parts' satellite, having been made cheaply from left-over bits from earlier projects. Examples of this include two major parts of the X-ray telescope: the X-ray CCD in the Leicester-supplied X-ray camera (which is a duplicate of an XMM EPIC MOS CCD), and the X-ray mirrors, which are from the Italian Jet-X project (see these pictures); and the UV/optical telescope, which is also a near XMM duplicate. Leicester has also supplied the optical XRT telescope alignment monitor, designed to ensure that the GRB X-ray positions promptly distributed have the best possible positional accuracy.

Leicester has naturally played a significant role in calibrating the XRT, and this continues in orbit; Leicester scientists continue to enhance the so-called 'response matrix', which describes the spectral response of the CCD to the incoming X-rays. Leicester also hosts the UK Swift Science Data Centre, providing fast and easy access for UK astronomers to the rapidly evolving data, as well as Swift data analysis training for anyone who wants it, and software services to the Swift project.

Share this page: