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Public Invited to Swift Satellite "Birthday Bash"

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25 October 2005 — On Sunday, 20 November 2005, NASA's Swift satellite — designed for studying gamma-ray bursts, the most violent explosions in the universe — will celebrate one year in orbit. The public is invited to share in a celebration on Swift's first "birthday" at 3:00 p.m. in 100 Thomas Building on the Penn State University Park campus. A presentation titled "Penn State in Space: The Swift Experience," will include first-hand accounts of experiences in space science and technology from John Nousek, Swift Mission Director and professor of astronomy and astrophysics; David Burrows, Swift Science Operations Lead and senior scientist/professor of astronomy and astrophysics; and Margaret Chester, Deputy Mission Director and research associate in astronomy and astrophysics.

This event is intended for the general public, school children, and space enthusiasts of all ages and is sponsored by the Friedman Public Lectures in Astronomy. "It is a great opportunity for Central Pennsylvanians to meet our local rocket scientists," said Lisa Brown, director of NASA's Pennsylvania Space Grant Consortium. The presentation will include an opportunity for audience members to ask questions and to interact with the Swift participants, and will be followed by cake and refreshments with Swift scientists, engineers, and students.

The Swift satellite is an engineering marvel, which is operated from a Penn State facility in Centre County. In the first year, the Swift Mission Operations Center has directed the satellite to turn swiftly, over 20,000 times, toward different areas in space. Approximately 80 of these "repointings" involved Swift redirecting its telescopes immediately after a gamma-ray burst was detected with its Burst Alert (BAT) telescope. After the satellite automatically points to a new gamma-ray burst, Swift's X-ray (XRT) and Ultraviolet/Optical (UVOT) telescopes then study the bursts at many wavelengths of light. Data from each burst are released to the world via the Internet within five minutes, and follow-up continues for several days at ground-based observatories worldwide.

Penn State serves at the major university partner for this mission, playing critical roles in the design, fabrication, and launch of the satellite, as well as in its continuing operation and scientific research. "After investing our hearts and souls into this experiment for years, it is really gratifying to see it working so well in space," says Dave Burrows. "It is especially thrilling to know that NASA's most exciting new mission has such close links to State College."

The Swift Mission Operations Center is located in State College, Pennsylvania, near the University Park campus where engineers, scientists, and Penn State students work 24 hours a day — many wearing beepers to alert them at the first sign of a new burst. "Working with Swift has been an incredible and amazing experience," said Penn State astronomy student Adam Morgan of Dallas, Pennsylvania.

Swift's main job is to study gamma-ray bursts. These cosmic events arise from the most extreme and rapid events in the universe such as the formation of a black hole during a supernova explosions or the collision of two neutron stars to form a black hole. "Swift's results over the past several months have been thrilling," says Eric Feigelson, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State. "It has detected one of the most distant objects known in the universe, as well as X-ray flares of unprecedented power lasting several minutes." Swift also studies other cosmic phenomena such as the evolution of supernovae in nearby galaxies and the collision of NASA's Deep Impact probe with a comet.

This presentation is hosted by the Penn State Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics and is funded largely by the Ronald M. and Susan J. Friedman Outreach Fund in Astronomy. Friedman is a member of the department's Board of Visitors.

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Eric Feigelson, professor of astronomy and astrophysics, 865-0162 or 865-0418
Chris Palma, outreach fellow in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics,
865-6236 or 865-0418

Additional information is available on the web at: www.swift.psu.edu/

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