Newsletter No. 99, December 2011

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

The Swift mission continues to operate flawlessly. The rate of Target of Opportunity requests and approvals has grown significantly over the past year to about 800 per year, or more than 2 per day on average. Requests are for transient events detected by various other observatories including Fermi, RXTE, INTEGRAL, XMM, Chandra, Palomar Transient Factory, VERITAS, MAGIC, and HESS. The Swift team is busy preparing for the upcoming Senior Review. Below are recent science findings, an update on the GI program and news from the EPO program.

Cosmic Explosion is Candidate for Most Distant Object

A gamma-ray burst detected by NASA's Swift satellite in April 2009 has been newly unveiled as a leading candidate for the most distant object in the universe. At a redshift of z~9.4 and with an estimated distance of 13.14 billion light years, the burst lies beyond any known quasar and could be more distant than any previously known galaxy or gamma-ray burst. GRB 090429B erupted from an exploding star when the universe was less than 4 percent of its present age, just 520 million years old and less than 10 percent of its present size. In the future, afterglows from GRBs like GRB 090429B could be used to explore the conditions of star and galaxy formation at these early cosmic epochs of reionization in detail.

Nearby Galaxy Boasts Two Monster Black Holes

A second supersized black hole at the heart of an unusual nearby galaxy already known to be sporting one has been found by Swift and Chandra. The distance separating the two black holes is about a third of the distance separating the solar system from the center of our own galaxy. The dual AGN of Markarian 739 is the second-closest known, both in terms of distance from one another and distance from Earth. Swift studies also revealed that about a quarter of the Swift BAT AGN were either interacting or in close pairs, with perhaps 60 percent of them poised to merge in another billion years.

Swift Guest Investigator Program

The deadline for submitting scientific/technical proposals for the Swift Cycle 8 Guest Investigator (GI) program was September 28. NASA received 151 proposals for Swift Cycle 8, requesting a total observing time of 14 Ms and $3M in funds for 639 targets. About 80% of all proposals are non-GRB proposals, 31% of which are Target of Opportunity proposals. About 45% of all targets are part of a monitoring campaign, requesting two or more observations of the same target.

The Swift Cycle 8 Peer Review will be held in December to evaluate the merits of all 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 8 observations and funding will commence on or around April 1, 2012, and will last approximately 12 months.

Swift E/PO News

A Swift-sponsored short course about Newton's Laws was a big success at the 2011 California Science Teachers' Association meeting. Kevin McLin and Lynn Cominsky worked with 15 teachers for three hours, connecting Newton's Laws to Swift as well as a variety of household objects.

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