Detection of GRB 060927 at z = 5.47: Implications for the Use of Gamma-Ray Bursts as Probes of the End of the Dark Ages
We report on follow-up observations of the gamma-ray burst GRB 060927 using the robotic ROTSE-IIIa telescope and a suite of larger aperture ground-based telescopes. An optical afterglow was detected 20 s after the burst, the earliest rest-frame detection of optical emission from any GRB. Spectroscopy performed with the VLT about 13 hr after the trigger shows a continuum break at λ~8070 Å, produced by neutral hydrogen absorption at z~5.6. We also detect an absorption line at 8158 Å, which we interpret as Si II λ1260 at z=5.467. Hence, GRB 060927 is the second most distant GRB with a spectroscopically measured redshift. The shape of the red wing of the spectral break can be fitted by a damped Lyα profile with a column density with log(NH/cm-2)=22.50+/-0.15. We discuss the implications of this work for the use of GRBs as probes of the end of the dark ages and draw three main conclusions: (1) GRB afterglows originating from z>~6 should be relatively easy to detect from the ground, but rapid near-infrared monitoring is necessary to ensure that they are found; (2) the presence of large H I column densities in some GRB host galaxies at z>5 makes the use of GRBs to probe the reionization epoch via spectroscopy of the red damping wing challenging; and (3) GRBs appear crucial to locate typical star-forming galaxies at z>5, and therefore the type of galaxies responsible for the reionization of the universe.Partly based on observations carried out with the ESO telescopes under programs 077.D-0661, 077.A-0667, 078.D-0416, and the large program 177.A-f0591.
The Astrophysical Journal
- Pub Date:
- November 2007
- Cosmology: Observations;
- gamma rays: bursts (GRB 060927);
- 15 pages, 6 figures, 2 tables, accepted for publication in ApJ, uses emulateapj