Infrared and Optical Observations of GRB 030115 and its Extremely Red Host Galaxy: Implications for Dark Bursts
We present near-infrared (NIR) and optical observations of the afterglow of GRB 030115. Discovered in an infrared search at Kitt Peak 5 hr after the burst trigger, this afterglow is the faintest ever observed in the R band at such an early epoch and exhibits very red colors, with R-K~6. The optical magnitude of the afterglow of GRB 030115 is fainter than many upper limits for other bursts, suggesting that without early NIR observations it would have been classified as a ``dark'' burst. Both the color and optical magnitude of the afterglow are likely due to dust extinction at moderate redshift z>2 and indicate that at least some optical afterglows are very faint due to dust along the line of sight. Multicolor Hubble Space Telescope observations were also taken of the host galaxy and the surrounding field. Photometric redshifts imply that the host and a substantial number of faint galaxies in the field are at z~2.5. The overdensity of galaxies is sufficiently great that GRB 030115 may have occurred in a rich high-redshift cluster. The host galaxy shows extremely red colors (R-K=5) and is the first GRB host to be classified as an extremely red object (ERO). Some of the galaxies surrounding the host also show very red colors, while the majority of the cluster are much bluer, indicating ongoing unobscured star formation. As it is thought that much of high-redshift star formation occurs in highly obscured environments, it may well be that GRB 030115 represents a transition object, between the relatively unobscured afterglows seen to date and a population of objects that are very heavily extinguished, even in the NIR.Based in part on observations made with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, obtained at the Space Telescope Science Institute, operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., under NASA contract NAS 5-26555. These observations are associated with programs 9074 and 9405. Also based in part on observations obtained at Kitt Peak National Observatory under program 03A-0470 at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) under program 70.D-0701 at the WHT, operated on the island of La Palma by the Isaac Newton Group in the Spanish Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos of the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias; and at NOT/Asaigo.