The signature of supernova ejecta in the X-ray afterglow of the γ-ray burst 011211


Now that γ-ray bursts (GRBs) have been determined to lie at cosmological distances1, their isotropic burst energies are estimated to be as high as 1054 erg (ref. 2), making them the most energetic phenomena in the Universe. The nature of the progenitors responsible for the bursts remains, however, elusive. The favoured models range from the merger of two neutron stars in a binary system3,4,5 to the collapse of a massive star6,7,8. Spectroscopic studies of the afterglow emission could reveal details of the environment of the burst, by indicating the elements present, the speed of the outflow and an estimate of the temperature. Here we report an X-ray spectrum of the afterglow of GRB011211, which shows emission lines of magnesium, silicon, sulphur, argon, calcium and possibly nickel, arising in metal-enriched material with an outflow velocity of the order of one-tenth the speed of light. These observations strongly favour models30 where a supernova explosion from a massive stellar progenitor precedes the burst event and is responsible for the outflowing matter.

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Figure 1: The XMM-Newton spectrum of the afterglow of the γ-ray burst, GRB011211.
Figure 2: The XMM-Newton EPIC-PN spectrum of the burst afterglow, for the first 5 ks of exposure only.
Figure 3: The line flux of Si xiv Kα, and the total continuum flux (0.2–10 keV), as a function of time since the initial burst.


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This work is based on observations obtained with XMM-Newton, an ESA science mission with instruments and contributions directly funded by ESA Member States and the USA (NASA). We thank M. Rees, M. Davies, B. McBreen, R. Willingale and M. Barstow for critical reading of the manuscript, and for discussions.

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Correspondence to J. N. Reeves.

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Reeves, J., Watson, D., Osborne, J. et al. The signature of supernova ejecta in the X-ray afterglow of the γ-ray burst 011211. Nature 416, 512–515 (2002).

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