Swift optics take off

UV optical monitor success

The NASA Swift Explorer mission utilising our optics was successfully placed in orbit on 20th November 2004 from a Delta II launcher.

The satellite observes gamma rays bursts (GRBs), the most energetic phenomena in the universe. As a result of their high energy output, they can be seen at greater distances and therefore yield data from close to the origins of the universe.

Our contribution was to the UV optical telescope (UVOT), which simultaneously observes the bursts at optical wavelengths. Based on a lightweight conically back design, the telescope has a 310mm diameter f2 diffraction limited Ritchey Chretien system with a high precision polish to nurse every photon into the correct place.

UVOT is now successfully acquiring images in UV wavelengths of gamma ray afterglows, and was recently used to image the impact of “Deep Impact” on comet Tempel 1 in July 2005. The UVOT is able to determine the location of any afterglow it sees to an accuracy of a few tenths of an arcsecond and can record down to mag.24 in 17 minutes. It is expected that Swift will observe around 100 GRBs in a year.

Tempel 1 image from UVOT. Background stars are streaksdue to cometary motion, not due to our optics!