skip to main content

Title: A nearby long gamma-ray burst from a merger of compact objects
Abstract Gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) are flashes of high-energy radiation arising from energetic cosmic explosions. Bursts of long (greater than two seconds) duration are produced by the core-collapse of massive stars 1 , and those of short (less than two seconds) duration by the merger of compact objects, such as two neutron stars 2 . A third class of events with hybrid high-energy properties was identified 3 , but never conclusively linked to a stellar progenitor. The lack of bright supernovae rules out typical core-collapse explosions 4–6 , but their distance scales prevent sensitive searches for direct signatures of a progenitor system. Only tentative evidence for a kilonova has been presented 7,8 . Here we report observations of the exceptionally bright GRB 211211A, which classify it as a hybrid event and constrain its distance scale to only 346 megaparsecs. Our measurements indicate that its lower-energy (from ultraviolet to near-infrared) counterpart is powered by a luminous (approximately 10 42  erg per second) kilonova possibly formed in the ejecta of a compact object merger.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; more » ; ; ; ; « less
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Page Range / eLocation ID:
228 to 231
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract For gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) with durations greater than two seconds (so-called long GRBs), the intrinsic prompt gamma-ray emission appears, on average, to last longer for bursts at lower redshifts. We explore the nature of this duration–redshift anticorrelation, describing systems and conditions in which this cosmological evolution could arise. In particular, we explore its dependence on the metallicity of a massive star progenitor, because we can securely count on the average stellar metallicity to increase with decreasing redshift. Although stars with higher metallicity/lower redshift lose mass and angular momentum through line-driven winds, in some cases these stars are able to form more extended accretion disks when they collapse, potentially leading to longer-duration GRBs. We also examine how this duration–redshift trend may show up in interacting binary models composed of a massive star and compact object companion, recently suggested to be the progenitors of radio-bright GRBs. Under certain conditions, mass loss and equation-of-state effects from massive stars with higher metallicity and lower redshift can decrease the binary separation. This can then lead to spin-up of the massive star and allow for a longer-duration GRB upon the massive star’s collapse. Finally, the duration–redshift trend may also be supported by a relatively larger population of small-separation binaries born in situ at low redshift. 
    more » « less
  2. Abstract The contemporaneous detection of gravitational waves and gamma rays from GW170817/GRB 170817A, followed by kilonova emission a day after, confirmed compact binary neutron star mergers as progenitors of short-duration gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) and cosmic sources of heavy r -process nuclei. However, the nature (and life span) of the merger remnant and the energy reservoir powering these bright gamma-ray flashes remains debated, while the first minutes after the merger are unexplored at optical wavelengths. Here, we report the earliest discovery of bright thermal optical emission associated with short GRB 180618A with extended gamma-ray emission—with ultraviolet and optical multicolor observations starting as soon as 1.4 minutes post-burst. The spectrum is consistent with a fast-fading afterglow and emerging thermal optical emission 15 minutes post-burst, which fades abruptly and chromatically (flux density F ν ∝ t − α , α = 4.6 ± 0.3) just 35 minutes after the GRB. Our observations from gamma rays to optical wavelengths are consistent with a hot nebula expanding at relativistic speeds, powered by the plasma winds from a newborn, rapidly spinning and highly magnetized neutron star (i.e., a millisecond magnetar), whose rotational energy is released at a rate L th ∝ t −(2.22±0.14) to reheat the unbound merger-remnant material. These results suggest that such neutron stars can survive the collapse to a black hole on timescales much larger than a few hundred milliseconds after the merger and power the GRB itself through accretion. Bright thermal optical counterparts to binary merger gravitational wave sources may be common in future wide-field fast-cadence sky surveys. 
    more » « less
  3. Abstract

    Gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) have historically been divided into two classes. Short-duration GRBs are associated with binary neutron star mergers (NSMs), while long-duration bursts are connected to a subset of core-collapse supernovae (SNe). GRB 211211A recently made headlines as the first long-duration burst purportedly generated by an NSM. The evidence for an NSM origin was excess optical and near-infrared emission consistent with the kilonova observed after the gravitational-wave-detected NSM GW170817. Kilonovae derive their unique electromagnetic signatures from the properties of the heavy elements synthesized by rapid neutron capture (ther-process) following the merger. Recent simulations suggest that the “collapsar” SNe that trigger long GRBs may also producer-process elements. While observations of GRB 211211A and its afterglow rule out an SN typical of those that follow long GRBs, an unusual collapsar could explain both the duration of GRB 211211A and ther-process-powered excess in its afterglow. We use semianalytic radiation transport modeling to evaluate low-mass collapsars as the progenitors of GRB 211211A–like events. We compare a suite of collapsar models to the afterglow-subtracted emission that followed GRB 211211A, and find the best agreement for models with high kinetic energies and an unexpected pattern of56Ni enrichment. We discuss how core-collapse explosions could produce such ejecta, and how distinct our predictions are from those generated by more straightforward kilonova models. We also show that radio observations can distinguish between kilonovae and the more massive collapsar ejecta we consider here.

    more » « less
  4. Abstract

    Long and short gamma-ray bursts (GRBs), canonically separated at around 2 s duration, are associated with different progenitors: the collapse of a massive star and the merger of two compact objects, respectively. GRB 191019A was a long GRB (T90∼ 64 s). Despite the relatively small redshiftz= 0.248 and Hubble Space Telescope follow-up observations, an accompanying supernova was not detected. In addition, the host galaxy did not have significant star formation activity. Here we propose that GRB 191019A was produced by a binary compact merger, whose prompt emission was stretched in time by the interaction with a dense external medium. This would be expected if the burst progenitor was located in the disk of an active galactic nucleus, as supported by the burst localization close to the center of its host galaxy. We show that the light curve of GRB 191019A can be well modeled by a burst of intrinsic durationteng= 1.1 s and of energyEiso= 1051erg seen moderately off axis, exploding in a medium of density ∼107–108cm−3. The double-peaked light curve carries the telltale features predicted for GRBs in high-density media, where the first peak is produced by the photosphere and the second by the overlap of reverse shocks that take place before the internal shocks could happen. This would make GRB 191019A the first confirmed stellar explosion from within an accretion disk, with important implications for the formation and evolution of stars in accretion flows and for gravitational-waves source populations.

    more » « less
  5. ABSTRACT The central engine in long gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) is thought to be a compact object produced by the core collapse of massive stars, but its exact nature (black hole or millisecond magnetar) is still debatable. Although the central engine of GRB collapsars is hidden to direct observation, its properties may be imprinted on the accompanying electromagnetic signals. We aim to decipher the generic properties of central engines that are consistent with prompt observations of long GRBs detected by the Burst Alert Telescope (BAT) on board the Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory. Adopting a generic model for the central engine, in which the engine power and activity time-scale are independent of each other, we perform Monte Carlo simulations of long GRBs produced by jets that successfully breakout from the star. Our simulations consider the dependence of the jet breakout time-scale on the engine luminosity and the effects of the detector’s flux threshold. The two-dimensional (2D) distribution of simulated detectable bursts in the gamma-ray luminosity versus gamma-ray duration plane is consistent with the observed one for a range of parameter values describing the central engine. The intrinsic 2D distribution of simulated collapsar GRBs peaks at lower gamma-ray luminosities and longer durations than the observed one, a prediction that can be tested in the future with more sensitive detectors. Black hole accretors, whose power and activity time are set by the large-scale magnetic flux through the progenitor star and stellar structure, respectively, are compatible with the properties of the central engine inferred by our model. 
    more » « less