The sharpness of gamma-ray burst prompt emission spectra

Hoi Fung Yu, Hendrik J. Van Eerten, Jochen Greiner, Re'Em Sari, P. Narayana Bhat, Andreas Von Kienlin, William S. Paciesas, Robert D. Preece

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40 Scopus citations


We study the sharpness of the time-resolved prompt emission spectra of gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) observed by the Gamma-ray Burst Monitor (GBM) on board the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope. We aim to obtain a measure of the curvature of time-resolved spectra that can be compared directly to theory. This tests the ability of models such as synchrotron emission to explain the peaks or breaks of GBM prompt emission spectra. Methods. We take the burst sample from the official Fermi GBM GRB time-resolved spectral catalog. We re-fit all spectra with a measured peak or break energy in the catalog best-fit models in various energy ranges, which cover the curvature around the spectral peak or break, resulting in a total of 1113 spectra being analyzed. We compute the sharpness angles under the peak or break of the triangle constructed under the model fit curves and compare them to the values obtained from various representative emission models: blackbody, single-electron synchrotron, synchrotron emission from a Maxwellian or power-law electron distribution. Results. We find that 35% of the time-resolved spectra are inconsistent with the single-electron synchrotron function, and 91% are inconsistent with the Maxwellian synchrotron function. The single temperature, single emission time, and location blackbody function is found to be sharper than all the spectra. No general evolutionary trend of the sharpness angle is observed, neither per burst nor for the whole population. It is found that the limiting case, a single temperature Maxwellian synchrotron function, can only contribute up to % of the peak flux. Conclusions. Our results show that even the sharpest but non-realistic case, the single-electron synchrotron function, cannot explain a large fraction of the observed GRB prompt spectra. Because any combination of physically possible synchrotron spectra added together will always further broaden the spectrum, emission mechanisms other than optically thin synchrotron radiation are likely required in a full explanation of the spectral peaks or breaks of the GRB prompt emission phase.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numberA129
JournalAstronomy and Astrophysics
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 ESO.


  • Gamma rays: stars
  • Gamma-ray burst: general
  • Methods: data analysis
  • Radiation mechanisms: non-thermal
  • Radiation mechanisms: thermal


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