Photospheric emission in gamma-ray bursts

University dissertation from Stockholm : KTH Royal Institute of Technology

Abstract: This thesis considers emission from gamma-ray bursts (GRBs), the most powerful explosions known in the Universe. Most GRBs are likely associated with the final stages of stellar evolution, where the core of a massive star collapses, and gives birth to a highly compact object such as a neutron star or black hole. The wide energy range of the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope allows for unprecedented studies of GRBs. Fermi data is used to study the emission released at the photosphere of the relativistic outow ejected from the central compact object. The thesis present studies of two of the strongest GRBs ever detected; GRB 090902B (Papers I, II) and GRB 110721A (Paper III). Photospheric emission is identied and its properties are studied for both GRBs. For the first time, observational evidence is found for spectral broadening of photospheric emission. Motivated by these results, possible mechanisms to make the emission from the photosphere appear broader than the Planck spectrum are examined. Two separate theoretical explanations are presented. Apart from the possibility of energy dissipation below the photosphere (Paper II), geometrical effects in outflows with angle dependent properties is shown to significantly broaden the photospheric spectrum (Paper IV). Most importantly, the observed spectrum below the peak energy may become significantly softer inthe latter case. This thesis thus concludes that photospheric emission in GRBs may be more common than previously thought. This is because the emission spectrum from the jet photosphere does not necessarily need to be a Planck function. On the contrary it is shown that broader and/or multicomponent spectra naturally arise, consistent with what is generally observed. In particular, the thesis presents a new mechanism for spectral broadening due to geometrical effects, which must be taken into consideration in the study of GRB emission.