We introduce a new capability of the Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory to provide event-level data from the Burst Alert Telescope (BAT) on demand in response to transients detected by other instruments. We show that the availability of these data can effectively increase the rate of detections and arcminute localizations of gamma-ray bursts (GRB) like GRB 170817 by >400%. We describe an autonomous spacecraft-commanding pipeline purpose built to enable this science; to our knowledge, this is the first fully autonomous extremely low-latency commanding of a space telescope for scientific purposes. This pipeline has been successfully run in its complete form since 2020 January, and has resulted in the recovery of BAT event data for >800 externally triggered events to date (gravitational waves, GWs; neutrinos; GRBs triggered by other facilities; fast radio bursts; and very high-energy detections), now running with a success rate of ∼90%. We exemplify the utility of this new capability by using the resultant data to (1) set the most sensitive upper limits on prompt 1 s duration short GRB-like emission within 15 s around the unmodeled GW burst candidate S200114f, and (2) provide an arcminute localization for short GRB 200325A and other bursts. We also show that using data from GUANO to localize GRBs discovered by other instruments, we can increase the net rate of arcminute-localized GRBs by 10%-20% per year. Along with the scientific yield of more sensitive searches for subthreshold GRBs, the new capabilities designed for this project will serve as the foundation for further automation and rapid target of opportunity capabilities for the Swift mission, and have implications for the design of future rapid-response space telescopes.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Astronomy and Astrophysics
- Space and Planetary Science