UCL News


New space telescope aims to seek out and record explosive gamma ray bursts

5 June 2002

A state of the art space telescope built by scientists at UCL will make its way to the Goddard space Flight Centre in Maryland on a mission to unravel the mysteries of the universes gamma rays.

The telescope - called UVOT - will be one of three telescopes on a special NASA orbiting space observatory planned for launch in 2003.

The observatory , called SWIFT, has been specially designed to find gamma ray bursts. The most explosive events in the universe, little is know of about why and when gamma ray bursts occur. The most distant bursts have been spotted in a galaxy 12 billion light years away and scientists believe that the explosion coincided with the early beginnings of the universe.

Scientists speculate that gamma ray bursts may come from explosions of massive stars called hypernovae which leave behind black holes in their wake or when vert dense stars and rare neutron stars collide.

"One thing we do know," said Professor Keith Mason of the Mullard Space Science Laboratory at UCL, "is that if a gamma ray burst went off in our galaxy, it would cause mass extinction on the Earth in a matter of seconds. The SWIFT observatory will look into the most distant reaches of the Universe and find about three gamma ray bursts a week."

The UCL team will us the information to discover the reasons behind these cataclysmic events which may in turn unlock further secrets of the history and structure of the universe.