Ten years ago yesterday, a Delta rocket from Cape Canaveral launched the Swift satellite into orbit. From time to time, I’ve published pictures and videos based on data taken by Swift. Most of it has been related to X-ray astronomy because the instrument that I worked on is an X-ray instrument.
Swift has also been doing excellent UV astronomy as well. The picture on the left is the first light UV image from ten years ago. It’s M101, the Pinwheel Galaxy.
Swift‘s UV Optical Telescope has been used to create the most detailed ultraviolet light surveys ever of the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, the two closest major galaxies. Nearly a million ultraviolet sources appear in the mosaic of the Large Magellanic Cloud below. It was assembled from 2,200 images taken by the UVOT. The 160-megapixel image (drastically reduced resolution here!) required a cumulative exposure of 5.4 days. The image includes light from 160 to 330 nm. Those UV wavelengths are largely blocked by Earth’s atmosphere. The Large Magellanic Cloud is about 14,000 light-years across.
Image Credits: NASA
During my early days working at Goddard Space Flight Center, I designed one of the subsystems in the instrument that normally serves as the viewfinder on the Swift satellite, the Burst Alert Telescope. There are two other instrument aboard, an X-ray Telescope and a UV Optical Telescope. The Swift mission team has used the UVOT to create detailed images of the two galaxies nearest the Milky Way, the Large and Smaller Magellanic Clouds.
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