Recent particle-in-cell simulations suggest that a large fraction of the energy dissipated in a relativistic shock is deposited into a Maxwellian distribution of electrons that is connected to the high-energy power-law tail. Here, we explore the observational implications of such a mixed thermal-non-thermal particle distribution for the afterglow and prompt emission of gamma-ray bursts. When the Maxwellian component dominates the energy budget, the afterglow light curves show a very steep decline phase followed by a more shallow decay when the characteristic synchrotron frequency crosses the observed band. The steep decay appears in the X-rays at ∼100 s after the burst and is accompanied by a characteristic hard-soft-hard spectral evolution that has been observed in a large number of early afterglows. If internal shocks produce a similar mixed electron distribution, a bump is expected at the synchrotron peak of the νfν spectrum.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Astronomy and Astrophysics
- Space and Planetary Science
- Acceleration of particles
- Gamma-rays: Bursts
- Radiation mechanisms: General