Over the past decade, our physical understanding of γ-ray bursts (GRBs) has progressed rapidly, thanks to the discovery and observation of their long-lived afterglow emission. Long-duration (≳2 s) GRBs are associated with the explosive deaths of massive stars ('collapsars', ref. 1), which produce accompanying supernovae; the short-duration (≲2 s) GRBs have a different origin, which has been argued to be the merger of two compact objects. Here we report optical observations of GRB 060614 (duration ∼100 s, ref. 10) that rule out the presence of an associated supernova. This would seem to require a new explosive process: either a massive collapsar that powers a GRB without any associated supernova, or a new type of 'engine', as long-lived as the collapsar but without a massive star. We also show that the properties of the host galaxy (redshift z = 0.125) distinguish it from other long-duration GRB hosts and suggest that an entirely new type of GRB progenitor may be required.
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