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NASA to Launch the Swift satellite

November 17, 2004

NASA is on the verge of adding a new observatory to its stable of astronomical spacecraft. Swift, a satellite that is designed to study gamma-ray bursts, is scheduled for launch between 12:09pm and 1:09pm EST (17:09 to 18:09 UTC) The mission has a minimum life of two years.

Gamma-ray bursts are energetic events lasting from several milliseconds to several thousand seconds. The gamma-ray bursts with durations of more than a second are known to be from core-collapse supernovae. Their sources are among the most distant objects that we can observe, and they are among the most brilliant events that occur in the universe.

The Swift spacecraft is the third NASA spacecraft specifically designed to study gamma-ray bursts—the previous two spacecraft were the tiny HETE and HETE-2. Swift has gamma-ray and x-ray detectors that can localize gamma-ray bursts to about 5 arc seconds. It also has optical cameras that may be able to see prompt optical emission if that emission exceeds expectations. The satellite is designed to send the information about a detected gamma-ray burst to ground observatories within 70 seconds of the detection of a burst.

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