Gamma-ray bursts prompt emission spectrum: An analysis of a photosphere model

Asaf Pe'er, Peter Mészáros, Martin J. Rees

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


A thermal radiative component is likely to accompany the first stages of the prompt emission of gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) and X-ray flashes. We analyse the effect of such a component on the observable spectrum, assuming that the observable effects are due to a dissipation process occurring below or near the thermal photosphere. For comparable energy densities in the thermal and leptonic components, the dominant emission mechanism is Compton scattering. This leads to a nearly flat energy spectrum (vFv ∝ v0) above the thermal peak at approximately 10-100 keV and below 10-100 MeV, for a wide range of optical depths 0.03 ≲ τ ≲ 100 regardless of the details of the dissipation mechanism or the strength of the magnetic field. For higher values of the optical depth, a Wien peak is formed at 100 keV to 1 MeV. In particular, these results are applicable to the internal shock model of GRBs, as well as to slow dissipation models, e.g. as might be expected from reconnection, if the dissipation occurs at a sub-photospheric radii. We conclude that dissipation near the thermal photosphere can naturally explain (i) clustering of the peak energy at sub-MeV energies at early times, (ii) steep slopes observed at low energies, and (iii) a flat spectrum above 10 keV at late times. Our model thus provides an alternative scenario to the optically thin synchrotron-synchrotron self-Compton model.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1171-1175
Number of pages5
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences
Issue number1854
StatePublished - May 15 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Mathematics(all)
  • Engineering(all)
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)


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