Now there's an app for NASA's Swift Observatory

October 25, 2011

Interested in the latest discoveries of NASA's Swift satellite? The Swift team has released a free iPhone application that gives users the details of all the latest gamma-ray-burst discoveries that the Swift  observatory is making throughout the universe. The app also allows users to track, in real time, the location of Swift as it orbits the Earth, to see where Swift is pointed right now, and to view an informative gallery of beautiful images obtained by the Swift satellite.

"We developed the iPhone app to be fun and informative, but also to be useful for both amateur and professional astronomers," said Jamie  Kennea, science operations team leader for NASA's Swift Mission and a researcher at Penn State. Kennea and Patrizia Caraveo, the director of the Italian Institute of Space Astrophysics in Milano, conceived of this project and presented it in a talk during the "Time Domain Astrophysics" conference at Clemson University on Monday, Oct. 24.

The new smartphone app for the iPhone, iPod, and iPad allows users to obtain up-to-date information on gamma-ray-burst discoveries in real time and to see the same data that scientists are using to better understand gamma-ray bursts. The app even will send a message to a user's phone when a gamma-ray burst is discovered. Users, whether they are amateur or professional astronomers, now can point their telescopes in the direction of these bursts to hunt for the light from the most powerful explosions in the universe.

The iPhone app was developed at the Swift Mission Operations Center near Penn State's University Park campus by a student from the University of Trento in Italy, Giacomo Saccardo. The "NASA Explorer" app has four features:

-- An interactive map of the world, showing Swift's current location in its orbit;

-- A list and a map showing the recently discovered gamma-ray-bursts, including optical images and data from all three of Swift's detectors;

 --A real-time, updated guide to Swift's current observations; and

-- A gallery of Swift-related images with full descriptions, compiled by Swift scientists.

You can download the Swift app from Apple's App Store by using the search term "NASA Explorer" or by going to the URL

For more information, contact Patrizia A. Caraveo at; Jamie Kennea at, 814-865-0234; or Barbara Kennedy (Penn State Eberly College of Science PIO) at 814-863-4682 or


The Swift observatory was launched in November 2004 and was fully operational by January 2005. Swift carries three main instruments: the Burst Alert Telescope, the X-ray Telescope, and the Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope. Its science and science and flight operations are controlled by Penn State from the Mission Operations Center in State College, Pennsylvania. Swift's gamma-ray detector, the Burst Alert Telescope, provides the rapid initial location and was built primarily by the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and Los Alamos  National Laboratory in New Mexico and constructed at GSFC. Swift's X-Ray Telescope and UV/Optical Telescope were developed and built by international teams led by Penn State and drew heavily on each institution's experience with previous space missions. The X-ray Telescope resulted from Penn State's collaboration with the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom and the Brera Astronomical Observatory in Italy. The Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope resulted from Penn State's collaboration with the Mullard Space Science Laboratory of the University College-London. These three telescopes give Swift the ability to do almost immediate follow-up observations of most gamma-ray bursts because Swift can rotate so quickly to point toward the source of the gamma-ray signal. The spacecraft was built by Spectrum Astro, which became part of General Dynamics, and then part of Orbital Sciences Corp.

  • A new, free iPhone application gives the details of all the latest gamma-ray-burst discoveries being made by NASA's Swift observatory.

    IMAGE: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Last Updated November 21, 2011