Swift Satellite Turns on a Dime

NASA craft to be launched this month must act fast to catch fleeting deep space explosions

3 min read

1 November 2004--NASA plans to launch a satellite this month that can peer back in time billions of years to a point in the history of the universe about which almost nothing is known. The only evidence from that period comes from the most violent explosions ever observed, called gamma-ray bursts (GRBs). Astronomers do not know for sure what causes them. They could be caused by colliding neutron stars or black holes forming in the death throes of the very first stars in the universe.

With the new satellite, the Swift Gamma Ray Burst Explorer, a collaboration between NASA and scientific institutions in the United Kingdom and Italy, astronomers are hoping to pin down definitively the origins of GRBs. Swift was originally supposed to be launched in 2003, but a number of set backs, the latest being hurricane damage to NASA's Kennedy Space Center, in Florida, have delayed the mission. At press time, Swift's launch is scheduled for 11 November, and scientists are keeping their fingers crossed.

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Top Tech 2023: A Special Report

These two dozen technical projects should make significant advances in the coming year

2 min read
Top Tech 2023: A Special Report
Edmon DeHaro

Each January, the editors of IEEE Spectrum offer up some predictions about technical developments we expect to be in the news over the coming year. You’ll find a couple dozen of those described in the following special report. Of course, the number of things we could have written about is far higher, so we had to be selective in picking which projects to feature. And we’re not ashamed to admit, gee-whiz appeal often shaped our choices.

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