Swift: Animations

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  • Swift Spacecraft Animations
    Swift searches for Gamma Ray Bursts and stellar explosions
  • Swift HD Beauty Shot
    Animation of the Swift spacecraft.
  • Swift - Print Still Images - Wallpaper
    From the animation series - a few high resolution JPEG images
  • Massive Black Hole Shreds Passing Star (Animation Only)
    A star approaching too close to a massive black hole is torn apart by tidal forces, as shown in this artist's rendering. Filaments containing much of the star's mass fall toward the black hole. Eventually these gaseous filaments merge into a smooth, hot disc glowing brightly in X-rays. As the disk forms, it's central region heats up tremendously, which drives a flow of material, called a wind, away from the disk.

    Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/CI Lab

    Watch this video on the NASA Goddard YouTube channel.

    For complete transcript, click here.

  • NASA's Swift Satellite Spots Black Hole Devouring A Star
    In late March 2011, NASA's Swift satellite alerted astronomers to intense and unusual high-energy flares from a new source in the constellation Draco. They soon realized that the source, which is now known as Swift J1644+57, was the result of a truly extraordinary event — the awakening of a distant galaxy's dormant black hole as it shredded and consumed a star. The galaxy is so far away that the radiation from the blast has traveled 3.9 billion years before reaching Earth.

    Most galaxies, including our own, possess a central supersized black hole weighing millions of times the sun's mass. According to the new studies, the black hole in the galaxy hosting Swift J1644+57 may be twice the mass of the four-million-solar-mass black hole lurking at the center of our own Milky Way galaxy. As a star falls toward a black hole, it is ripped apart by intense tides. The gas is corralled into a disk that swirls around the black hole and becomes rapidly heated to temperatures of millions of degrees.

    The innermost gas in the disk spirals toward the black hole, where rapid motion and magnetism creates dual, oppositely directed "funnels" through which some particles may escape. Particle jets driving matter at velocities greater than 80-90 percent the speed of light form along the black hole's spin axis. In the case of Swift J1644+57, one of these jets happened to point straight at Earth.

    Theoretical studies of tidally disrupted stars suggested that they would appear as flares at optical and ultraviolet energies. The brightness and energy of a black hole's jet is greatly enhanced when viewed head-on. The phenomenon, called relativistic beaming, explains why Swift J1644+57 was seen at X-ray energies and appeared so strikingly luminous.

    When first detected on March 28, the flares were initially assumed to signal a gamma-ray burst, one of the nearly daily short blasts of high-energy radiation often associated with the death of a massive star and the birth of a black hole in the distant universe. But as the emission continued to brighten and flare, astronomers realized that the most plausible explanation was the tidal disruption of a sun-like star seen as beamed emission.

  • X-ray Nova Flaring Black Hole animation
    An X-ray nova is a short-lived X-ray source that appears suddenly, reaches its emission peak in a few days and then fades out over a period of months. The outburst arises when a torrent of stored gas suddenly rushes toward one of the most compact objects known, either a neutron star or a black hole.
  • HD 189733b Exoplanet Animation
    The exoplanet HD 189733b lies so near its star that it completes an orbit every 2.2 days. In late 2011, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope found that the planet's upper atmosphere was streaming away at speeds exceeding 300,000 mph. Just before the Hubble observation, NASA's Swift detected the star blasting out a strong X-ray flare, one powerful enough to blow away part of the planet's atmosphere.
  • (596) Scheila Asteroid Collision Animation
    Late last year, astronomers noticed that an asteroid named Scheila had brightened unexpectedly and was sporting a short-lived tail. Now, data from NASA's Swift satellite and Hubble Space Telescope show that these changes likely occurred after Scheila was struck by a much smaller asteroid.
  • Scientists Watch Baby Black Hole Get to Work Fast
    Scientists using NASA's Swift satellite say they have found newborn black holes, just seconds old, in a confused state of existence, sloppily gorging on material falling into them while somehow propelling other material away at great speeds. These black holes are born in massive star explosions. An initial blast obliterates the star. Yet the chaotic black hole activity appears to re-energize the explosion again and again over the course of several minutes. This is a dramatically different view of star death, one that entails multiple explosive outbursts and not just a single bang, as previously thought.

    When a massive star runs out of fuel, it no longer has the energy to support its mass. The core collapses and forms a black hole. Shockwaves bounce out and obliterate the outer shells of the star. Previously scientists thought that a single explosion is followed by a graceful afterglow of the dying embers. Now, according to Swift observations, it appears that a newborn black hole in the core somehow re-energizes the explosion again and again, creating multiple bursts all within a few minutes.

  • NASA's Swift Finds 'Missing' Active Galaxies
    Most large galaxies contain a giant central black hole. In an active galaxy, matter falling toward the supermassive black hole powers high-energy emissions so intense that two classes of active galaxies, quasars and blazars, rank as the most luminous objects in the universe. Thick clouds of dust and gas near the central black hole screens out ultraviolet, optical and low-energy (or soft) X-ray light. Although there are many different types of active galaxy, astronomers explain the different observed properties based on how the galaxy angles into our line of sight. We view the brightest ones nearly face on, but as the angle increases, the surrounding ring of gas and dust absorbs increasing amounts of the black hole's emissions.
  • Naked-Eye Gamma-ray Burst Model for GRB 080319B
    Gamma-ray bursts that are longer than two seconds are caused by the detonation of a rapidly rotating massive star at the end of its life on the main sequence. Jets of particles and gamma radiation are emitted in opposite directions from the stellar core as the star collapses. In this model, a narrow beam of gamma rays is emitted, followed by a wider beam of gamma rays. The narrow beam for GRB 080319B was aimed almost precisely at the Earth, which made it the brightest gamma-ray burst observed to date by NASA's Swift satellite.
  • Gamma-Rays from High-Mass X-Ray Binaries
    In its first year, NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope discovered GeV (billions of electron volts) intensity variations revealing orbital motion in high-mass X-ray binaries (HMXBs). These are systems where a compact companion, such as a neutron star or a black hole, rapidly orbits a hot, young, massive star. The first examples include LSI +61 303, which sports a 26-day orbital period, and LS 5039 (3.9 days). This animation shows such a system. When the compact object lies far from its host star, TeV (trillions of electron volts) gamma-rays (white) are seen by ground-based gamma-ray observatories. But, as the object plunges closer to the star, the TeV emission is quenched and GeV emission turns on. Interactions by accelerated particles from the compact source with gas encircling the star — or in some systems, the star's light itself — is thought to be responsible for this change.
  • Neutron Star Merge
    Binary systems containing neutron stars are born when the cores of two orbiting stars collapse in supernova explosions. Neutron stars pack the mass of our sun into the size of a city. They are so dense and packed so tightly that the boundaries atoms nuclei disappear. In such systems, Einstein's theory of general relativity predicts that neutron stars emit gravitational radiation, ripples of space-time. This causes the orbits to shrink and gradually brings the neutron stars closer together. Shown here is such a system after about 1 billion years, when two equal-mass neutron whirl around each other at 60,000 times a minute. The stars merge in a few milliseconds, sending out a burst of gravitational waves and a brief, intense gamma-ray burst.
  • Cosmic Explosion Second Only to the Sun in Brightness
    The gamma ray flare produced by neutron star SGR 1806-20, traveled 50,000 light years before impacting Earth. The burst was so powerful, that it disrupted Earth's ionosphere. Scientists know of only two other giant flares in the past 35 years, and this December 27, 2005 event was one hundred times more powerful than either of those
  • The Dual Personality of the 'Christmas Burst'
    The Christmas burst, also known as GRB 101225A, was discovered in the constellation Andromeda by Swift's Burst Alert Telescope at 1:38 p.m. EST on Dec. 25, 2010. Two very different scenarios successfully reproduce features of this peculiar cosmic explosion. It was either caused by novel type of supernova located billions of light-years away or an unusual collision much closer to home, within our own galaxy.

    Common to both scenarios is the presence of a neutron star, the crushed core that forms when a star many times the sun's mass explodes.

    According to one science team, the burst occurred in an exotic binary system where a neutron star orbited a normal star that had just entered its red giant phase. The outer atmosphere of the giant expanded so much that it engulfed the neutron star, which resulted in both the ejection of the giant's atmosphere and rapid tightening of the neutron star's orbit.

    Once the two stars became wrapped in a common envelope of gas, the neutron star may have merged with the giant's core after just five orbits, or about 18 months. The end result of the merger was the birth of a black hole and the production of oppositely directed jets of particles moving at nearly the speed of light, which made the gamma rays, followed by a weak supernova. Based on this interpretation, the event took place about 5.5 billion light-years away, and the team has detected what may be a faint galaxy at the right location.

    Another team supports an alternative model that involves the tidal disruption of a large comet-like object and the ensuing crash of debris onto a neutron star located only about 10,000 light-years away.

    Gamma-ray emission occurred when debris fell onto the neutron star. Clumps of cometary material likely made a few orbits, with different clumps following different paths before settling into a disk around the neutron star. X-ray variations detected by Swift's X-Ray Telescope that lasted several hours may have resulted from late-arriving clumps that struck the neutron star as the disk formed.

    The NASA release is here.