The discovery of gamma-ray bursts was accidental, but the study of them is intentional. Teams of scientists from around the globe work together to understand data being transmitted from the Swift satellite. They work collaboratively to build and discard theories, and to find new avenues for exploration. Together, they work to understand why gamma-ray bursts occur, and what they can tell us about the origins of the universe.
Before the discovery of gamma ray bursts, the universe appeared to be relatively calm, but now we know it is actually a very violent place. Gamma ray bursts are in indication of that. They last only a few seconds, but in that few seconds, the amount of radiation energy the gamma ray produces is equal to the amount of energy our sun produces during its entire lifetime. And, since gamma ray bursts occur approximately once a day, there is evidence of a lot of explosive activity.
The frequency of the ray bursts allow scientists to collect data previously unavailable. The new data allows Swift scientists to add to the library they already have about how the universe started. Thus, theories continue to develop, expand, be refuted and discarded.
Swift is a satellite designed by Penn State researchers and launched by NASA to study gamma-ray bursts. Launched in November of 2005, the satellite was named after the swift, a small, quickly moving bird. Catching a GRB is no easy task. The burst can appear from any direction without warning and can last for only a few milliseconds to just over a minute. So, the satellite has to move quickly and be in position to capture the data. According to NASA, no other satellite turns faster. In addition to GRBs, Swift searches and records other phenomena it observes in the sky.
The Swift satellite is comprised of three telescopes: the Burst Alert Telescope (BAT); the X-ray Telescope (XRT); and the Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope (UVOT). The BAT detects and locates the GRBs. Once one is identified, Swift repositions itself so that the other two telescopes can collect data on the afterglow of the burst. All the data is transmitted to earth and is available publicly within 30 minutes of the GRB detection.