The third telescope aboard NASA’s Swift gamma-ray observatory, the Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope (UVOT) with key involvement from UK scientists at University College London’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory, has seen first light and is now poised to observe its first gamma-ray burst. The UVOT captured an image of the Pinwheel Galaxy, known by amateur astronomers as the ‘perfect’ face-on spiral galaxy. With the UVOT turned on the Swift observatory is fully operational. Swift’s two other instruments - the Burst Alert Telescope (BAT) and the X-ray Telescope (XRT) with University of Leicester involvement - were turned on over the last few weeks and have been snapping up gamma-ray bursts ever since.
Swift is a NASA-led mission dedicated to unravelling the mysteries of gamma-ray bursts - random and fleeting explosions that signal the likely birth of black holes. "This was a real treat to point the UVOT toward the famous Pinwheel Galaxy, M101," said Dr. Peter Roming, UVOT Lead Scientist at the US Penn State University. "The ultraviolet wavelengths in particular reveal regions of star formation in the galaxy’s spiral arms. But more than a pretty image, this first-light observation is a test of the UVOT’s capabilities."
Swift’s three telescopes work in unison. The BAT instrument detects gamma-ray bursts and autonomously turns the satellite in seconds to bring the burst within view of the XRT and the UVOT, which provide detailed follow-up observations of the burst afterglow. Although the burst itself is gone within seconds, scientists can study the afterglow for clues about the origin and nature of the burst, much like detectives at a crime scene.
Julia Maddock | alfa
http://www.pparc.ac.uk/Nw/UVOT_images.asp and http://swift.gsfc.nasa.gov
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