Early afterglow emission from a reverse shock as a diagnostic tool for gamma-ray burst outflows

Ehud Nakar*, Tsvi Piran

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

97 Scopus citations


The gamma-ray burst-afterglow transition is one of the most interesting and least studied gamma-ray burst phases. During this phase, the relativistic ejecta begins interacting with the surrounding matter. A strong short-lived reverse shock propagates into the ejecta (provided that it is baryonic) while the forward shock begins to shape the surrounding matter into a Blandford-McKee profile. We suggest a parametrization of the early afterglow light curve and we calculate (analytically and numerically) the observed parameters that result from a reverse shock emission (in an interstellar medium environment). We present a new fingerprint of the reverse shock emission that is added to the well-known t-2 optical decay. Observation of this signature would indicate that the reverse shock dominates the emission during the early afterglow. The existence of a reverse shock will in turn imply that the relativistic ejecta contains a significant baryonic component. This signature would also imply that the surrounding medium is an interstellar medium. We further show the following, (i) The reverse shock optical flash depends strongly on initial conditions of the relativistic ejecta, (ii) Previous calculations have generally overestimated the strength of this optical flash, (iii) If the reverse shock dominates the optical flash, then detailed observations of the early afterglow light curve would possibly enable us to determine the initial physical conditions within the relativistic ejecta and specifically to estimate its Lorentz factor and its width.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)647-653
Number of pages7
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - 11 Sep 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Gamma-rays: bursts
  • Hydrodynamics
  • Shock waves


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