Multiwavelength observations of GRB 050820A: An exceptionally energetic event followed from start to finish

S. B. Cenko*, M. Kasliwal, F. A. Harrison, V. Pal'shin, D. A. Frail, P. B. Cameron, E. Berger, D. B. Fox, A. Gal-Yam, S. R. Kulkarni, D. S. Moon, E. Nakar, E. O. Ofek, B. E. Penprase, P. A. Price, R. Sari, B. P. Schmidt, A. M. Soderberg, R. Aptekar, D. FrederiksS. Golenetskii, D. N. Burrows, R. A. Chevalier, N. Gehrels, P. J. McCarthy, J. A. Nousek, T. Piran

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

92 Scopus citations


We present observations of the unusually bright and long γ-ray burst GRB 050820A, one of the best sampled broadband data sets in the Swift era. The γ-ray light curve is marked by a soft precursor pulse some 200 s before the main event; the lack of any intervening emission suggests that it is due to a physical mechanism distinct from the GRB itself. The large time lag between the precursor and the main emission enabled simultaneous observations in the γ-ray, X-ray, and optical bandpasses, something only achieved for a handful of events to date. While the contemporaneous X-rays are the low-energy tail of the prompt emission, the optical does not directly track the γ-ray flux. Instead, the early-time optical data appear consistent with the forward shock synchrotron peak passing through the optical and are therefore likely the beginning of the afterglow. On hour timescales after the burst, the X-ray and optical light curves are inconsistent with an adiabatic expansion of the shock into the surrounding region, but rather indicate that there is a period of energy injection. Observations at late times allow us to constrain the collimation angle of the relativistic outflow to 6°.8 ≲ θ ≲ 9°.3. Our estimates of both the kinetic energy of the afterglow (E KE = 5.2-4.1+7.9 × 1051 ergs) and the prompt γ-ray energy release (Eγ = 7.5 -2.4+6.7 × 1051 ergs) make GRB 050820A one of the most energetic events for which such values could be determined.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)490-506
Number of pages17
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1 I
StatePublished - 20 Nov 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Gamma rays: bursts
  • X-rays: individual (GRB 050820A)


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