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The decay of optical emission from the γ-ray burst GRB970228


The origin of γ-ray bursts has been one of the great unsolved mysteries in high-energy astrophysics for almost 30 years. The recent discovery of fading sources at X-ray1 and optical 2,3 wavelengths coincident with the location of the γ-ray burst GRB970228 therefore provides an unprecedented opportunity to probe the nature of these high-energy events. The optical counterpart appears to be a transient point source embedded in a region of extended nebulosity 3–6, the latter having been tentatively identified as a high-redshift galaxy3. This would seem to favour models that place γ-ray bursts at cosmological distances, although a range of mechanisms for producing the bursts is still allowed. A crucial piece of information for distinguishing between such models is how the brightness of the optical counterpart evolves with time. Here we re-evaluate the existing photometry of the optical counterpart of GRB970228 to construct an optical light curve for the transient event. We find that between 21 hours and six days after the burst, the R-band brightness decreased by a factor of 40, with any subsequent decrease in brightness occurring at a much slower rate. As the point source faded, it also became redder. The initial behaviour of the source appears to be consistent with the 'fireball' model7, but the subsequent decrease in the rate of fading may prove harder to explain.

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Galama, T., Groot, P., van Paradijs, J. et al. The decay of optical emission from the γ-ray burst GRB970228. Nature 387, 479–481 (1997).

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