GRB 021004: A possible shell nebula around a Wolf-Rayet star gamma-ray burst progenitor

N. Mirabal*, J. P. Halpern, Ryan Chornock, Alexei V. Filippenko, D. M. Terndrup, E. Armstrong, J. Kemp, J. R. Thorstensen, M. Tavarez, C. Espaillat

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

89 Scopus citations


The rapid localization of GRB 021004 by the HETE-2 satellite allowed nearly continuous monitoring of its early optical afterglow decay, as well as high-quality optical spectra that determined a redshift of z3 = 2. 328 for its host galaxy, an active starburst galaxy with strong Lyα emission and several absorption lines. Spectral observations show multiple absorbers at Z3A = 2.323, z3B = 2.317, and z3C = 2.293 blueshifted by ∼450, ∼990, and ∼3155 km s-1, respectively, relative to the host galaxy Lyα emission. We argue that these correspond to a fragmented shell nebula that has been radiatively accelerated by the gamma-ray burst (GRB) afterglow at a distance ≳ 0.3 pc from a Wolf-Rayet star GRB progenitor. The chemical abundance ratios indicate that the nebula is overabundant in carbon and silicon. The high level of carbon and silicon is consistent with a swept-up shell nebula gradually enriched by a carbon-rich late-type Wolf-Rayet progenitor wind over the lifetime of the nebula prior to the GRB onset. The detection of statistically significant fluctuations and color changes about the jetlike optical decay further supports this interpretation, since fluctuations must be present at some level as a result of irregularities in a clumpy stellar wind medium or if the progenitor has undergone massive ejection prior to the GRB onset. This evidence suggests that the mass-loss process in a Wolf-Rayet star might lead naturally to an iron core collapse with sufficient angular momentum that could serve as a suitable GRB progenitor. Even though we cannot rule out definitely the alternatives of a dormant QSO, large-scale superwinds, or a several hundred year old supernova remnant responsible for the blueshifted absorbers, these findings point to the likelihood of a signature for a massive-star GRB progenitor.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)935-949
Number of pages15
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2 I
StatePublished - Oct 1 2003


  • Cosmology: observations
  • Galaxies: ISM
  • Gamma rays: bursts
  • ISM: bubbles
  • Stars: winds, outflows
  • Supernova remnants

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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