The observable effects of a photospheric component on GRB and XRF prompt emission spectrum

Asaf Pe'er, Peter Mészáros, Martin J. Rees

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A thermal radiative component is likely to accompany the first stages of the prompt emission of gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) and X-ray flashes (XRFs). We analyze the effect of such a component on the observable spectrum, assuming that the observable effects are due to a dissipation process occurring below or near the thermal photosphere. We consider both the internal shock model and a quot;slow heating" model as possible dissipation mechanisms. For comparable energy densities in the thermal and leptonic components, the dominant emission mechanism is Compton scattering. This leads to a nearly flat energy spectrum (νFν ∝ ν0) above the thermal peak at ≈ 10-100 keV and below 10-100 MeV, for a wide range of optical depths 0.03 ≲ τγe ≲ 100, regardless of the details of the dissipation mechanism or the strength of the magnetic field. At lower energies steep slopes are expected, while above 100 MeV the spectrum depends on the details of the dissipation process. For higher values of the optical depth, a Wien peak is formed at 100 keV-1 MeV, and no higher energy component exists. For any value of τγe, the number of pairs produced does not exceed the baryon-related electrons by a factor of larger than a few. We conclude that dissipation near the thermal photosphere can naturally explain both the steep slopes observed at low energies and a flat spectrum above 10 keV, thus providing an alternative scenario to the optically thin synchrotron-SSC model.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)995-1003
Number of pages9
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2 I
StatePublished - 10 May 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Gamma rays: bursts
  • Gamma rays: theory
  • Plasmas
  • Radiation mechanisms: nonthermal


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