Sub-photospheric emission from relativistic radiation mediated shocks in GRBs

Omer Bromberg*, Ziv Mikolitzky, Amir Levinson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


It is proposed that the prompt emission observed in bursts that exhibit a thermal component originates from relativistic radiation mediated shocks (RRMS) that form below the photosphere of the gamma-ray burst (GRB) outflow. It is argued that such shocks are expected to form in luminous bursts via collisions of shells that propagate with moderate Lorentz factors Γ ≲ 500. Faster shells will collide above the photosphere to form collisionless shocks. We demonstrate that in events like GRB 090902B a substantial fraction of the explosion energy is dissipated below the photosphere, in a region of moderate optical depth τ ≲ 300, whereas in GRB 080916C the major fraction of the energy dissipates above the photosphere. We show that under conditions anticipated in many GRBs, such RRMS convect enough radiation upstream to render photon production in the shock transition negligible, unlike the case of shock breakout in supernovae. The resulting spectrum, as measured in the shock frame, has a relatively low thermal peak, followed by a broad, nonthermal component extending up to the Klein-Nishina limit.

Original languageEnglish
Article number85
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2011


  • ISM: jets and outflows
  • gamma-ray burst: general
  • radiation mechanisms: non-thermal
  • radiative transfer
  • relativistic processes
  • shock waves


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