News Sci/Tech NASA's Swift Observatory Temporarily Suspends Science Operations
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Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory

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NASA's Swift Observatory Temporarily Suspends Science Operations

By NASA Science Editorial Team

Last Updated: March 18, 2024

Overview

NASA’s Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory, a collaborative effort involving institutions worldwide, has encountered a hiccup in its mission. On March 15, the observatory entered safe mode due to a decline in performance from one of its three gyroscopes (gyros). These gyros are crucial for precisely pointing the observatory during observations.

The Swift Mission

Swift, launched in 2004, has been a stalwart in observing the high-energy universe for nearly two decades. Its primary focus is on gamma-ray bursts (GRBs), the most powerful explosions in the cosmos. When Swift detects a GRB, it rapidly determines its location and broadcasts it to the astronomical community. The observatory then turns its sensitive telescopes toward the event, capturing valuable data.

Adaptable and Versatile

Swift’s agility lies in its ability to operate successfully even with one gyro offline. However, a software update is necessary to continue science operations using the remaining two gyros. The team is diligently working on implementing this update.

Impressive Discoveries

Over the years, Swift has made remarkable discoveries. It identified an ultra-long class of GRBs with emissions lasting hours, detected the farthest GRB (its light traveled over 13 billion years to reach us), and witnessed a “naked-eye” GRB visible without telescopic aid despite its immense distance.

Time-Domain Astronomy

Swift’s flexibility extends beyond GRBs. Its planning system allows astronomers to request rapid “target-of-opportunity” observations or set up monitoring programs for specific sources. This pioneering approach in “time-domain” astronomy enables up to 75 independent targets to be scheduled daily.

Looking Ahead

The Swift team remains committed to returning the observatory to full science operations as swiftly as possible. Stay tuned for updates on nasa.gov/swift.

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