Celebrating 15 years of Swift discoveries in orbit

Posted by Julian Osborne at Nov 21, 2019 12:00 AM |
Leicester celebrates the great success of the Swift satellite in transient astrophysics on the 15th anniversary of its launch
Celebrating 15 years of Swift discoveries in orbit

Drs Andy Beardmore, Kim Page, Prof Julian Osborne and Dr Phil Evans, the Swift team at Leicester in front of a quarter scale model of the Swift satellite.

Launched from Cape Canaveral on Nov 20, 2004, the Swift satellite was designed to answer the many questions about the enigmatic cosmic explosions known as Gamma-Ray Bursts. It is a novel autonomous rapid-reaction spacecraft with a multi-wavelength payload of telescopes. The University of Leicester provided the CCD camera for the X-ray telescope, which has been used in all of the observations. Swift continues to work perfectly today, typically making observations of more than 60 different sources every day. We provide the calibration of the XRT and its on-line science data products which are used around the world.


Swift has been fabulously successful as a discovery machine. It finds and studies around 90 new GRBs each year, and its great observing flexibility means that it gets around 5 requests to promptly study new and varying objects every day. Swift provided the first localisations of short GRBs, ruling out a supernova origin; the detection of high redshift GRBs, reaching back into the re-ionisation era of the early Universe; and the discovery of new types of GRB behaviour in the early X-ray and optical/UV light curves, teaching us about the poorly understood central engine. Most dramatically, in 2017 it made ground-breaking first coincident measurements of the source of gravitational waves from colliding neutron stars, showing how the elements heavier than iron are formed, and of the first source to be identified with a cosmic neutrino, a flaring supermassive black hole in the centre of a galaxy, showing how some of the highest energy particles in the Universe are made.


The great success of Swift results from its clever technology and its clever people. These are the skilled engineers who built the instruments and the dedicated scientists working daily to get the maximum possible discoveries from Swift by operating the spacecraft, tuning the analysis systems, training the younger generations of Swift users, and developing new Swift capabilities. We all celebrate the new discoveries made by Swift, and hope for another 15 years!






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