The distribution of equivalent widths in long GRB afterglow spectra

A. de Ugarte Postigo, J. P. U. Fynbo, C. C. Thöne, L. Christensen, J. Gorosabel, B. Milvang-Jensen, S. Schulze, P. Jakobsson, K. Wiersema, R. Sánchez-Ramírez, G. Leloudas, T. Zafar, D. Malesani, J. Hjorth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Citations (Scopus)


Context. The extreme brightness of gamma-ray burst (GRB) afterglows and their simple spectral shape make them ideal beacons to study the interstellar medium of their host galaxies through absorption line spectroscopy at almost any redshift.

Aims. We describe the distribution of rest-frame equivalent widths (EWs) of the most prominent absorption features in GRB afterglow spectra, providing the means to compare individual spectra to the sample and identify its peculiarities.

Methods. Using 69 low-resolution GRB afterglow spectra, we conduct a study of the rest-frame EWs distribution of features with an average rest-frame EW larger than 0.5 Å. To compare an individual GRB with the sample, we develop EW diagrams as a graphical tool, and we give a catalogue with diagrams for the 69 spectra. We introduce a line strength parameter (LSP) that allows us to quantify the strength of the absorption features in a GRB spectrum as compared to the sample by a single number. Using the distributions of EWs of single-species features, we derive the distribution of their column densities by a curve of growth (CoG) fit.

Results. We find correlations between the LSP and the extinction of the GRB, the UV brightness of the host galaxies and the neutral hydrogen column density. However, we see no significant evolution of the LSP with the redshift. There is a weak correlation between the ionisation of the absorbers and the energy of the GRB, indicating that, either the GRB event is responsible for part of the ionisation, or that galaxies with high-ionisation media produce more energetic GRBs. Spectral features in GRB spectra are, on average, 2.5 times stronger than those seen in QSO intervening damped Lyman-α (DLA) systems and slightly more ionised. In particular we find a larger excess in the EW of CIVλλ1549 relative to QSO DLAs, which could be related to an excess of Wolf-Rayet stars in the environments of GRBs. From the CoG fitting we obtain an average number of components in the absorption features of GRBs of 6.00-1.25+1.00.  The most extreme ionisation ratios in our sample are found for GRBs with low neutral hydrogen column density, which could be related to ionisation by the GRB emission.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberA11
Pages (from-to)1-35
Number of pages35
JournalAstronomy and Astrophysics
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • gamma-ray burst: general
  • techniques: spectroscopic
  • galaxies: ISM
  • galaxies: high-redshift
  • dust, extinction


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