Indexed on: 26 Mar '06Published on: 26 Mar '06Published in: Astrophysics
The X-ray light curves of many gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) observed by the Swift X-Ray Telescope (XRT) have a very steep-decay component (tail) following the prompt gamma-rays in the early phase and have some erratic flares occurring at a time from ~10^2 up to ~10^5 seconds. Based on the assumption that these tails and flares are of internal shock origin and that their decline behaviors are dominated by the curvature effect of the fireball, we present a self-consistency test for this scenario with a sample of 36 prompt-emission-tails/flare-tails in 22 GRB XRT light curves. Our results show that the t0 of the prompt emission tails and the tails of well-separated flares are usually at the rising segment of the last pulse of the prompt emission or the corresponding X-ray flare, being self-consistent with the expectation of the internal dissipation models for the prompt emission and X-ray flares. Our results indicate that each X-ray flare forms a distinct new episode of central engine activity and the GRB central engine remains active after the prompt emission is over, sometimes up to ~1 day after the GRB trigger (e.g. GRB 050502B & GRB 050724). This challenges the conventional central engine models and calls for new ideas to re-start the central engine. We further show that the on-set time of the late central engine activity does not depend on the GRB duration. We also identify a minority group of GRBs whose combined BAT-XRT light curves are smoothly connected without an abrupt transition between the prompt emission and the afterglow. These GRBs may have an external origin for both the prompt emission and the afterglow.