Astronomers estimate that a supernova explosion occurs perhaps a couple of times a century in the Milky Way. The expanding blast wave and hot stellar debris slowly dissipate over hundreds of thousands of years, eventually mixing with and becoming indistinguishable from interstellar gas. The Swift satellite uncovered the previously unknown remains of a shattered star during an X-ray survey of the galaxy’s central regions. The new object, named G306.3-0.9 after it’s coordinates in the sky,is among the youngest of the 300+ known supernova remnants in the Milky Way. Analysis indicates that G306.3–0.9 is probably less than 2,500 years old. That would make it one of the 20 youngest supernova remnants identified.
This composite image of G306.3–0.9 (the blob in the lower left) was stitched together using data from Chandra X-ray observations (blue), infrared data acquired by the Spitzer Space Telescope (red and cyan) and radio observations (purple) from the Australia Telescope Compact Array.
The image on the left was taken in February, 2011, using Swift’s X-ray Telescope as part of the Galactic Plane Survey. The dots in the image indicate where X-rays struck the detector. Despite this short 8.5-minute exposure, the extended circular patch of G306.3–0.9 stands out quite nicely.
Image Credits: NASA
Just after 07:47 UTC last Saturday, the Gamma-ray Burst Monitor (GBM) aboard the Fermi satellite triggered on an eruption of high-energy light in the constellation Leo. Click on the image to see an animation showing a more detailed Fermi Large Area Telescope view. GRB 130427A produced the highest-energy light ever detected from gamma ray burst. The sequence shows high-energy (100 MeV to 100 GeV) gamma rays from a 20-degree-wide region of the sky starting three minutes before the burst to 14 hours after. After a one-second spike, the burst’s output remained relatively quiet for the next 15 seconds while Fermi‘s GBM showed bright, variable lower-energy emission. Then the burst re-brightened in the LAT over the next few minutes and remained bright for almost half a day. The record-setting blast of gamma rays came from a dying star in a distant galaxy roughly 3.6 billion light-years away.
Fermi’s Large Area Telescope (LAT) recorded one gamma ray with an energy of at least 94 billion electron volts (GeV), or some 35 billion times the energy of visible light, and about three times greater than any previous GRB. The GeV emission from the burst lasted for several hours, and it remained detectable by the LAT for the most of the day, making it the longest gamma-ray emission from a GRB detected to date.
The burst occurred as NASA’s Swift satellite was slewing between targets, which delayed its Burst Alert Telescope’s (BAT) detection by less than a minute. (The BAT is a wide-angle detector that can quickly determine the bearing to a gamma ray source. I designed the low-noise power regulators that feed the detector array in the BAT.) The burst was detected in optical, infrared and radio wavelengths by ground-based observatories using the rapid, accurate position from Swift.
Swift‘s X-Ray Telescope took this image of GRB 130427A at 07:50 UTC on 27 April, moments after Swift and Fermi triggered on the GRB.
Gamma-ray bursts are the universe’s most luminous explosions. We believe that most occur when massive stars run out of nuclear fuel and collapse under their own weight. As the core collapses into a black hole, jets of material explode outward at almost the speed of light.
Image Credits: NASA
The gamma ray burst (GRB) from GRB 111209A (aka the Christmas Burst) was detected in early December, 2011. The blast produced high-energy emission for an astonishing seven hours, the longest-duration GRB ever observed. This false-color image shows the event as captured by the X-ray Telescope aboard NASA’s Swift satellite. Because the distance to the burst was not measured initially, astronomers came up with a couple of radically different interpretations. In one scenario, a solitary neutron star in our own galaxy shredded and accreted an approaching comet-like body. In the other, a neutron star spiraled into and was eaten by a giant star in a distant galaxy. Now, a third explanation has been advanced. After a measurement of the Christmas Burst’s host galaxy, it appears that the GRB resulted from the collapse and explosion of a supergiant star hundreds of times larger than the sun.
Image Credit: NASA
Astronomers from the University of Maryland at College Park and Lowell Observatory have used NASA’s Swift satellite to check out comet C/2012 S1 (ISON), which may become one of the most dazzling in decades when it rounds the sun later this year. Using images acquired over the last two months from Swift‘s Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope (UVOT), the team has made initial estimates of the comet’s water and dust production and used them to infer the size of its icy nucleus.The UVOT imaged comet ISON (center) at the end of January, when it was located about 3.3 degrees from the bright star Castor in the constellation Gemini. When this 5.5 min time exposure was taken, the comet was about 5,000 times fainter than the limit of human vision.
Based on ISON’s orbit, astronomers think the comet is making its first-ever trip through the inner solar system. Before beginning its long fall toward the Sun, the comet resided in the Oort comet cloud, a vast shell of icy bodies that extends from the outer reaches of the planetary system to about a third of the distance to the star nearest the Sun.
On 1 October, the inbound comet passes about 10.8 million km from Mars. During this close encounter, NASA and ESA spacecraft now orbiting Mars may be able to observe the comet. It may also have its picture taken by the Curiosity rover from the surface of Mars.
On 28 November, ISON will swing around around the sun. The comet will approach within about 1.2 million km of the Sun’s visible surface, which classifies it as a sungrazing comet. In late November, icy material will furiously sublimate and torrents of dust will be released as the ISON’s surface erodes because of the Sun’s fierce heat—as sun-monitoring satellites look on. Around this time, the comet may become bright enough to be seen from Earth just by holding up a hand to block the Sun’s glare.
Following ISON’s solar encounter, the comet will move toward Earth, appearing in evening twilight through December. It will swing past Earth on the day after Christmas, coming within 64.2 million km or about 167 times farther than the moon.
Image and Video Credit: NASA
About 7,500 years ago, a star went supernova. The Crab Nebula is the wreckage of that supernova whose explosion was seen on Earth in the year AD 1054. The expanding cloud of gas is located 6,500 light-years away in the constellation Taurus. This false color composite of three ultraviolet images taken by the UV Optical Telescope carried on the Swift satellite highlights the hot gas in the supernova remnant. The image is constructed from exposures using these filters centered at 260 nm (red), at 225 nM (green), and centered at 193 nm (blue). (Click the image to embiggen it.)
Image Credit: NASA
These images from the Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope (UVOT) on board NASA’s SWIFT satellite show the nearby spiral galaxy M101 before and after the appearance of SN 2011fe (circled, right). The supernova was discovered on 24 August, 2011. Only about 21 million light-years away, it was the nearest Type Ia supernova since 1986. Left: This view was constructed from images taken in March and April, 2007. Right: The supernova was so bright that most UVOT exposures were short, so this view includes imagery from August through November, 2011 to better show the galaxy.
Image Credit: NASA
This mosaic of M31 merges 330 individual images taken by the Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope aboard NASA’s Swift spacecraft. It is the highest-resolution image of the galaxy ever recorded in the ultraviolet. Also known as the Andromeda Galaxy, M31 is more than 220,000 light-years across and lies 2.5 million light-years away. On a clear, dark night, the galaxy is faintly visible as a misty patch to the naked eye.
The irregular shape of the image results when the more than 300 images were assembled to make the final image.
Image Credit: NASA/Swift/Stefan Immler (GSFC) and Erin Grand (UMCP)
There are three instruments on the Swift satellite—a UV telescope, an X-ray telescope, and the Burst Alert Telescope which serves as the gamma ray burst detector for the spacecraft. I contributed to the design of the ultra-quiet regulators powering the detector blocks in the BAT.
As asteroid 2005 YU55 swept past Earth in the early morning hours of Wednesday, 9 Nov., UV and X-ray telescopes aboard NASA’s Swift satellite joined professional and amateur astronomers around the globe in monitoring the fast-moving space rock. The unique ultraviolet data will aid scientists in understanding the asteroid’s surface composition. Image Credit: NASA
Learn more and watch a video of the flyby here.
A study using NASA’s Swift satellite and the Chandra X-ray Observatory has found a second supersized black hole at the heart of an unusual nearby galaxy already known to be sporting one. Viewed in visible light, Markarian 739 resembles a smiling face, with a pair of bright cores underscored by an arcing spiral arm. The object is really a pair of merging galaxies. Data from Swift and Chandra reveal the western core (right) to be a previously unknown active galactic nucleus (AGN); past studies already had identified an AGN in the eastern core. The two supermassive black holes are separated by about 11,000 light-years. The galaxy is 425 million light-years away. Image Credit: SDSS
Images from Swift’s Ultraviolet/Optical (white, purple) and X-ray telescopes (yellow and red) were combined in this view of GRB 110328A, which is now known as Sw 1644+57. The blast was detected only in X-rays, which were collected over a 3.4-hour period on March 28. Credit: NASA/Swift/Stefan Immler
On March 28, NASA’s Swift’s Burst Alert Telescope discovered a series of powerful X-ray blasts coming from a source in the constellation Draco. Astronomers around the world studied the unusual explosion, which is now known as Sw 1644+57. More than two months later, and with high-energy X-rays still coming from the spot, astronomers are convinced they’re witnessing the destruction of a star as it plunges into the central black hole of a galaxy nearly 4 billion light-years away. The star was ripped apart by the black hole’s intense tidal forces, and its gas continues to stream inward. “With this event, we’re seeing a new class of object in the sky, one we think is directly tied to the feeding behavior of a galaxy’s supermassive black hole,” said Neil Gehrels, Swift’s lead scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “Such events likely will give us unprecedented insight into what happens deep in the heart of active galaxies, such as quasars and blazars.”
I worked on the Burst Alert Telescope. I designed the low-noise power regulators that power the sensors and thermal controls for heaters used in the BAT and in the star trackers in the satellite guidance system. It’s pleasing to see work from almost a decade ago still helping to do some real science.
More about the SWIFT mission here.