BurstCube Detects Gamma-ray Transients

The first direct detections of Gravitational Waves (GWs) has brought astronomy into a new era of discovery. The search for electromagnetic counterparts to GW sources is now more important than ever before. BurstCube will be a 6U CubeSat (10 cm x 20 cm x 30 cm) composed of 4 scintillator detectors read out by arrays of silicon photomultipliers. BurstCube will automatically detect gamma-ray transients onboard (astrophysical, solar, and terrestrial), sending rapid alerts to the ground to enable follow-up observations. BurstCube is currently in development and will lauch in the early 2020's.

BurstCube Effective Area

BurstCube Effective Area

Despite the constraints of a CubeSat, BurstCube achieves an effective area of 70% of Fermi-GBM at 100 keV and 15 degree incidence. The effective area as a function of energy, and the corresponding curve for the larger Fermi-GBM NaI detectors are shown for reference.

BurstCube will increase the sky coverage for short (<2 s) gamma-ray bursts (GRBs), especially important in the current era of GW discoveries. The recent coincident detection of a short GRB (by Fermi and other multiwavelength partners) and a GW trigger has provided concrete proof that at least some short GRBs are produced by binary neutron star mergers. BurstCube will provide localizations which will assist wide-field follow-up observers in afterglow detection and redshift measurement. This will lead to additional insight into cosmological parameter estimation, constraints on the neutron star equation of state, and an inventory of r-process elements in the Universe constrained by the faint short GRB kilonova signature (seen in the most recent event). BurstCube will detect GRBs (long and short) from the entire unocculted sky providing broadband spectra for bursts detected elsewhere, rough localizations for follow-up, and accurately timed light curves. BurstCube will also detect solar flares, magnetar flares, and other hard X-ray transients, as well as persistent sources via occultation analysis. In a future without other GRB triggering instruments, BurstCube could provide all-sky coverage for a small fraction of the cost of an Explorer.

Performance Stats:

Time Until Launch

Team Members


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Postdoc Opportunity
ICRC Proceedings
A set of 3 or more BurstCubes would provide all-sky coverage.
The BurstCube detectors make maximum use of space and still achieve an effective area cosine dependence on incidence angle expected for a thin detector which is needed for GRB localizations.
Adding BurstCube to the existing network of GRB instruments will increase sky coverage to improve the probability of detecting and characterizing coincident emission from a sGRB and GW trigger.
The integrated relative exposure of BurstCube over a single orbit projected onto the sky in Mollweide celestial coordinates. An exposure of 1 is the maximum on-axis exposure for a single CsI detector.
In some regions of the sky, the conjunction of BurstCube and LIGO/Virgo localizations will reduce the followup search area, especially in cases when the GW event is only seen by 2 detectors, as demonstrated by overlaying a simulated BurstCube localization over the LIGO localization map of GW151226. The typical BurstCube localization (blue circle) is about 7 degree radius for the 2/3 of the unocculted sky with 3 or more detector exposures overlapping.
BurstCube localizes sGRBs to an accuracy of about 7 degrees radius when viewed by 3 or more detectors. The localization errors (in degrees radius) are shown across the entire BurstCube FoV in Az/El coordinates.



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