We present detailed optical, X-ray, and radio observations of the bright afterglow of the short gamma-ray burst 051221 a obtained with Gemini, Swift XRT, and the Very Large Array, as well as optical spectra from which we measure the redshift of the burst, z = 0.5464. At this redshift the isotropic-equivalent prompt energy release was about 1.5 × 1051 ergs, and using a standard afterglow synchrotron model, we find that the blast wave kinetic energy is similar, EK,iso ≈8.4 × 1051 ergs. An observed jet break at t ≈ 5 days indicates that the opening angle is θj ≈ 7̈ and the total beaming-corrected energy is therefore ≈ 2.5 × 1049 ergs, comparable to the values inferred for previous short GRBs. We further show that the burst experienced an episode of energy injection by a factor of 3.4 between t = 1.4 and 3.4 hr, which was accompanied by reverse shock emission in the radio band. This result provides continued evidence that the central engines of short GRBs may be active significantly longer than the duration of the burst and/or produce a wide range of Lorentz factors. Finally, we show that the host galaxy is actively forming stars at a rate of about 1.6 M⊙0 yr-1, yet exhibits evidence for an appreciable population of old stars (∼1 Gyr) and nearsolar metallicity. These properties are intermediate between those of long GRB hosts and previous short burst hosts. The lack of bright supernova emission and the low circumburst density (n ∼ 10-3 cm-3), however, continue to support the idea that short bursts are not related to massive stellar death. Given that the total energy release is larger than the predicted yield for a neutrino annihilation mechanism, this suggests that magnetohydrodynamic processes may be required to power the burst.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Astronomy and Astrophysics
- Space and Planetary Science