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The afterglow and elliptical host galaxy of the short γ-ray burst GRB 050724

Abstract

Despite a rich phenomenology, γ-ray bursts (GRBs) are divided1 into two classes based on their duration and spectral hardness—the long-soft and the short-hard bursts. The discovery of afterglow emission from long GRBs was a watershed event, pinpointing2 their origin to star-forming galaxies, and hence the death of massive stars, and indicating3 an energy release of about 1051 erg. While theoretical arguments4 suggest that short GRBs are produced in the coalescence of binary compact objects (neutron stars or black holes), the progenitors, energetics and environments of these events remain elusive despite recent5,6,7,8 localizations. Here we report the discovery of the first radio afterglow from the short burst GRB 050724, which unambiguously associates it with an elliptical galaxy at a redshift9 z = 0.257. We show that the burst is powered by the same relativistic fireball mechanism as long GRBs, with the ejecta possibly collimated in jets, but that the total energy release is 10–1,000 times smaller. More importantly, the nature of the host galaxy demonstrates that short GRBs arise from an old (> 1 Gyr) stellar population, strengthening earlier suggestions5,6 and providing support for coalescing compact object binaries as the progenitors.

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Figure 1: Near-infrared K -band images of the afterglow and host galaxy of GRB 050724.
Figure 2: Optical spectra of the host galaxy of GRB 050724.
Figure 3: Radio to X-ray spectral energy distribution of the afterglow emission 12 h after the burst.

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Acknowledgements

We are, as always, indebted to S. Barthelmy and the GCN. GRB research at Carnegie and Caltech is supported in part by funds from NASA. E.B. and A.G.Y. are supported by NASA through Hubble Fellowship grants awarded by the Space Telescope Science Institute, which is operated by AURA, Inc., for NASA. The VLA is operated by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, a facility of the National Science Foundation operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc.

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Correspondence to E. Berger.

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Berger, E., Price, P., Cenko, S. et al. The afterglow and elliptical host galaxy of the short γ-ray burst GRB 050724. Nature 438, 988–990 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature04238

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