Properties of GRB light curves from magnetic reconnection

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The energy dissipation mechanism within gamma-ray burst (GRB) outflows, driving their extremely luminous prompt γ-ray emission is still uncertain. The leading candidates are internal shocks and magnetic reconnection. While the emission from internal shocks has been extensively studied, that from reconnection still has few quantitative predictions. We study the expected prompt-GRB emission from magnetic reconnection and compare its temporal and spectral properties to observations. The main difference from internal shocks is that for reconnection one expects relativistic bulk motions with Lorentz factors Γ'≳ a few in the jet's bulk frame. We consider such motions of the emitting material in two antiparallel directions (e.g. of the reconnecting magnetic-field lines) within an ultrarelativistic (with Γ & Gt 1) thin spherical reconnection layer. The emission's relativistic beaming in the jet's frame greatly affects the light curves. For emission at radii R0 < R < R0 + ΔR (with Γ = const), the observed pulse width is ΔT ~ (R0/2cΓ2) max (1/Γ', ΔR/R0), i.e. up to ~Γ' times shorter than for isotropic emission in the jet's frame. We consider two possible magnetic reconnection modes: A quasi-steady state with continuous plasma flow into and out of the reconnection layer, and sporadic reconnection in relativistic turbulence that produces relativistic plasmoids. Both of these modes can account for many observed prompt-GRB properties: Variability, pulse asymmetry, the very rapid declines at their end and pulse evolutions that are either hard to soft (for Γ' ≲ 2) or intensity tracking (for Γ' > 2). However, the relativistic turbulence mode is more likely to be relevant for the prompt sub-MeV emission and can naturally account also for the peak luminosity - peak frequency correlation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3635-3658
Number of pages24
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number4
StatePublished - 11 Jul 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 The Authors Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Royal Astronomical Society.


  • Magnetic reconnection
  • gamma-rays: general
  • radiation mechanisms: non-thermal


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