Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Physics


Physics and Astronomy

First Committee Member

Bing Zhang, Chair

Second Committee Member

Stephen Lepp

Third Committee Member

Tao Pang

Fourth Committee Member

Daniel Proga

Graduate Faculty Representative

Matthew Lachniet

Number of Pages



Discovered serendipitously in the late 1960s, gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) are huge explosions of energy that happen at cosmological distances. They provide a grand physical playground to those who study them, from relativistic effects such as beaming, jets, shocks and blastwaves to radiation mechanisms such as synchrotron radiation to galatic and stellar populations and history. Through the Swift and Fermi space telescopes dedicated to observing GRBs over a wide range of energies(from keV to GeV), combined with accurate pinpointing that allows ground based follow-up observations in the optical, infrared and radio, a rich tapestry of GRB observations has emerged. The general picture is of a mysterious central engine (CE) probably composed of a black hole or neutron star that ejects relativistic shells of matter into intense magnetic fields. These shells collide and combine, releasing energy in "internal shocks" accounting for the prompt emission and flaring we see and the "external shock" or plowing of the first blastwave into the ambient surrounding medium has well-explained the afterglow radiation.

We have developed a shell model code to address the question of how X-ray flares are produced within the framework of the internal shock model. The shell model creates randomized GRB explosions from a central engine with multiple shells and follows those shells as they collide, merge and spread, producing prompt emission and X-ray flares. We have also included a blastwave model, which can constrain X-ray flares and explain the origin of high energy (GeV) emission seen by the Fermi telescope.

Evidence suggests that gamma-ray prompt emission and X-ray flares share a common origin and that at least some flares can only be explained by long-lasting central engine activity. We pay special attention to the time history of central engine activity, internal shocks, and observed flares. We calculate the gamma-ray (Swift/BAT band) and X-ray (Swift/XRT band) lightcurves for arbitrary central engine activity and compare the model results with the observational data. We show that the observed X-ray flare phenomenology can be explained within the internal shock model. The number, width and occurring time of flares are then used to diagnose the central engine activity, putting constraints on the energy, ejection time, width and number of ejected shells. We find that the observed X-ray flare time history generally reflects the time history of the central engine, which reactivates multiple times after the prompt emission phase with progressively reduced energy.

This shell model code can be used to constrain broadband observations of GRB 090926A, which showed two flares in both the Swift UVOT and XRT bands. Using the prompt emission fluence to constrain the total energy contained in the blastwave, the internal shock model requires that Lorentz factors of the shells causing flares must be less than the Lorentz factor of the blastwave when the shells are ejected.

Recent observations of Gamma-Ray Bursts (GRBs) by the Fermi Large Area Telescope (LAT) revealed a power law decay feature of the high energy emission (above 100 MeV), which led to the suggestion that it originates from an external shock. We analyze four GRBs (080916C, 090510, 090902B and 090926A) jointly detected by Fermi LAT and Gamma-ray Burst Monitor (GBM), which have high quality lightcurves in both instrument energy bands. Using the MeV prompt emission (GBM) data, we can record the energy output from the central engine as a function of time. Assuming a constant radiative efficiency, we are able to track energy accumulation in the external shock using our internal/external shell model code and show that the late time lightcurves fit well within the external shock model, but the early time lightcurves are dominated by the internal shock component which has a shallow decay phase due to the initial pile-up of shells onto the blast wave.


Gamma ray bursts; High energy astrophysics; Relativistic shocks; X-ray bursts


Astrophysics and Astronomy