HEAD High Energy Astrophysics Division

16. SWIFT Mission News
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Stefan Immler (UMCP/GSFC), Lynn Cominsky (Sonoma State), & Neil Gehrels (GSFC)

The Swift mission continues to operate flawlessly. The mission did well in the 2012 Senior Review and was awarded an augmentation to increase Guest Investigator (GI) Program funding from $0.8M to $1.2M per year and to add an additional flight operations engineer to the staff. The mission is slated to continue through 2016, with the last two years reviewed again in 2014. Coordinated observations are performed with other observatories including Fermi, INTEGRAL, XMM-Newton, Chandra, HST, Spitzer, Planck, PTF, VERITAS, MAGIC, and HESS. Below are recent science findings, an update on the GI program and news from the EPO program.

Swift Discovers a New Black Hole in the Galaxy

On Sept. 16, 2012, Swift detected the outburst from a rare X-ray nova located toward the Galactic Center. The rapidly brightening source, named Swift J1745-26, triggered Swift's Burst Alert Telescope twice on the morning of Sunday, Sept. 16, and once more on the following day. The nova peaked in hard X-rays on Sept. 18, when it reached a flux level equivalent to that of the Crab Nebula. It continued to brighten in soft X-rays detected by Swift's X-ray Telescope and by Oct. 3, Swift J1745-26 was 30 times brighter in soft X-rays than when it was discovered and was continuing to brighten. The thermal-viscous limit cycle of the binary system is thought to have caused the outburst when cooler, less ionized gas collects in the outer portion of the accretion disk around the black hole and a hotter, more ionized state sends a tidal wave of gas surging toward the center.

Swift, Hubble Detect First-Ever Changes in an Exoplanet Atmosphere

Swift and the Hubble Space Telescope have made an unparalleled observation, detecting significant changes in the atmosphere of an exoplanet. HD 189733b is classified as a "hot Jupiter" and circles its star HD 189733A at a distance of only 5 million kilometers, or about 30 times closer than Earth's distance from the sun, and completes an orbit every 2.2 days. Previous Hubble observations show that the planet's deep atmosphere reaches a temperature of about 1,030 degrees C. In April 2010, Hubble's Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) detected no trace of the planet's atmosphere. Follow-up STIS observations in September 2011 showed a surprising reversal, with striking evidence that a plume of gas was streaming away from the exoplanet. On Sept. 7, 2011, just eight hours before Hubble was scheduled to observe the transit, Swift was monitoring the star when it unleashed a powerful flare. It brightened by 3.6 times in X-rays, a spike occurring atop emission levels that already were greater than the sun's. Researchers determined that at least one million kilograms of gas was leaving the evaporating planet's atmosphere every second.

Swift Guest Investigator Program

The deadline for submitting scientific/technical proposals for the Swift Cycle 9 GI program was September 26. NASA received 158 proposals for Swift Cycle 9 (slightly up from last year's Cycle 8), requesting a total observing time of 13.2 Ms and $4.3M in funds for 866 targets. About 34% of all proposals are Target of Opportunity proposals; 33% of all targets are part of a monitoring campaign, requesting two or more observations of the same target.

The Swift Cycle 9 Peer Review will be held in December to evaluate the merits of submitted proposals and choose those that are recommended for funding and observing time. The accepted targets will shape the science program for Swift's next year. Cycle 9 observations and funding will commence on or around April 1, 2013, and will last 12 months.

Swift E/PO News

The sixth Astrophysics Educator Ambassador training took place July 23-27, 2012 at Sonoma State University. The week-long training featured a two-day mini-course on Gravitation and General Relativity, including introductions to NASA's Planck, GRAIL and GP-B missions, and LIGO. Swift scientist Jamie Kennea presented Swift's scientific highlights. The master educators also heard from Nicola Omodei about Fermi and from Steve Boggs about NuSTAR. To download the presentations or see videos of the presenters, go to: http://epo.sonoma.edu/ea/training.php# and click 2012.

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