The long, the short and the weak: the origin of gamma-ray bursts

Tsvi Piran, Omer Bromberg, Ehud Nakar, Re’em Sari


The origin of gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) is one of the most interesting puzzles in recent astronomy. During the last decade a consensus has formed that long GRBs (LGRBs) arise from the collapse of massive stars, and that short GRBs (SGRBs) have a different origin, most likely neutron star mergers. A key ingredient of the collapsar model that explains how the collapse of massive stars produces a GRB is the emergence of a relativistic jet that penetrates the stellar envelope. The condition that the emerging jet penetrates the envelope imposes strong constraints on the system. Using these constraints we show the following. (i) Low-luminosity GRBs (llGRBs), a subpopulation of GRBs with very low luminosities (and other peculiar properties: single-peaked, smooth and soft), cannot be formed by collapsars. llGRBs must have a different origin (most likely a shock breakout). (ii) On the other hand, regular LGRBs must be formed by collapsars. (iii) While for BATSE the dividing line between collapsars and non-collapsars is indeed at approximately 2 s, the dividing line is different for other GRB detectors. In particular, most Swift bursts longer than 0.8 s are of a collapsar origin. This last result requires a revision of many conclusions concerning the origin of Swift SGRBs, which were based on the commonly used 2 s limit.


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