On 2004 December 27, a giant flare from SGR 1806-20 was detected on Earth. Its thermal spectrum and temperature suggest that the flare resulted from an energy release of about 1047 ergs s-1 close to the surface of a neutron star in the form of radiation and/or pairs. This plasma expanded under its own pressure, producing a fireball, and the observed gamma rays escaped once the fireball became optically thin. The giant flare was followed by a bright radio afterglow, with an observable extended size, implying an energetic relativistic outflow. We revisit here the evolution of relativistic fireballs, and we calculate the Lorentz factor and energy remaining in relativistic outflow once the radiation escapes. We show that pairs that arise naturally in a pure pair-radiation fireball do not carry enough energy to account for the observed afterglow. We consider various alternatives and show that if the relativistic outflow that causes the afterglow is related directly to the prompt flare, then the initial fireball must be loaded by baryons or Poynting flux. While we focus on parameters applicable to the giant flare and the radio afterglow of SGR 1806-20, the calculations presented here could be also applicable to gamma-ray bursts (GRBs).
- Gamma rays: theory
- Stars: individual (SGR 1806-20)