The early X-ray afterglows of Gamma Ray Bursts

Research paper by G. Tagliaferri

Indexed on: 23 Feb '07Published on: 23 Feb '07Published in: Astrophysics


The X-ray light curves of hundreds of bursts are now available, thanks to the X-ray Telescope on board the Swift satellite, on time scales from ~1 minute up to weeks and in some cases months from the burst explosion. These data allow us to investigate the physics of the highly relativistic fireball outflow and its interaction with the circumburst environment. Here we review the main results of the XRT observations, with particular regard to the evolution of the X-ray light curves in the early phases. Unexpectedly, they are characterised by different slopes, with a very steep decay in the first few hundred of seconds, followed by a flatter decay and, a few thousand of seconds later, by a somewhat steeper decay. Often strong flare activity up to few hours after the burst explosion is also seen. These flares, most likely, are still related to the central engine activity, that last much longer than expected and it is still dominating the X-ray light curve well after the prompt phase, up to a few thousand of seconds. The real afterglow emission (external shock) is dominating the X-ray light curve only after the flatter phase ends. The flatter phase is probably the combination of late-prompt emission and afterglow emission. When the late-prompt emission ends the light curve steepens again. Some flare activity can still be detected during these later phases. Finally, even the late evolution of the XRT light curves is puzzling, in particular many of them do not show a ``jet-break''. There are various possibilities to explain these observations (e.g.time evolution of the microphysical parameters, structured jet). However, a clear understanding of the formation and evolution of the jet and of the afterglow emission is still lacking.