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The radio afterglow from the γ-ray burst of 8 May 1997


Important insight into the nature of γ-ray bursts (GRBs) has been gained in recent months mainly due to the immediate, precise localization of the bursts1,2,3 and the discovery of relatively long-lived X-ray afterglows1,2,3,4 by the satellite BeppoSAX5. These advances have enabled deep searches which have led to the discovery of optical transients6,7 coincident with fading X-ray sources. Optical spectroscopy of the latest burst (GRB970508; ref. 8) has clearly demonstrated that it lies at a cosmological distance, thus resolving a long-standing controversy about the distance scale to GRBs. Here we report a variable radio source within the error box of GRB970508 and coincident with the optical transient. We suggest that this is the much-sought-after radio counterpart of a GRB. If the observed fluctuations in the radio emission (‘twinkling’) are a result of a strong scattering by the irregularities in the ionized Galactic interstellar gas, then the source must have an angular size of about 3 microarcseconds in the first few weeks. The damping of the fluctuations with time indicates that the source expands to a significantly larger size later on.

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Figure 1: Light curves of the radio counterpart of GRB970508.


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The VLA is a facility of the NSF operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc. D.A.F. and S.R.K. thank NRAO, and in particular B. Clark and M. Goss, for their support of the GRB programme. We thank R. Blandford and E. Waxman for discussions. S.R.K. is supported by the NSF and NASA.

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Correspondence to D. A. Frail.

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Frail, D., Kulkarni, S., Nicastro, L. et al. The radio afterglow from the γ-ray burst of 8 May 1997. Nature 389, 261–263 (1997).

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