Toward an understanding of GRB prompt emission mechanism. I. the origin of spectral lags

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Despite decades of investigations, the physical mechanism that powers the bright prompt γ-ray emission from gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) is still not identified. One important observational clue that still has not been properly interpreted is the existence of time lags of broad light curve pulses in different energy bands, referred to as "spectral lags." Here, we show that the traditional view invoking the high-latitude emission "curvature effect" of a relativistic jet cannot account for spectral lags. Rather, the observed spectral lags demand the sweep of a spectral peak across the observing energy band in a specific manner. The duration of the broad pulses and inferred typical Lorentz factor of GRBs require that the emission region be in an optically thin emission region far from the GRB central engine. We construct a simple physical model invoking synchrotron radiation from a rapidly expanding outflow. We show that the observed spectral lags appear naturally in our model light curves given that (1) the gamma-ray photon spectrum is curved (as observed), (2) the magnetic field strength in the emitting region decreases with radius as the region expands in space, and (3) the emission region itself undergoes rapid bulk acceleration as the prompt γ-rays are produced. These requirements are consistent with a Poynting-flux-dominated jet abruptly dissipating magnetic energy at a large distance from the engine. © 2016. The American Astronomical Society. All rights reserved.


gamma-ray burst: general; radiation mechanisms: non-thermal; relativistic processes

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