Discovery of the Optical Afterglow and Host Galaxy of Short GRB 181123B at z = 1.754: Implications for Delay Time Distributions

K. Paterson, W. Fong, A. Nugent, A. Rouco Escorial, J. Leja, T. Laskar, R. Chornock, A. A. Miller, J. Scharw chter, S. B. Cenko, D. Perley, N. R. Tanvir, A. Levan, A. Cucchiara, B. E. Cobb, K. De, E. Berger, G. Terreran, K. D. Alexander, M. NichollP. K. Blanchard, D. Cornish

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


We present the discovery of the optical afterglow and host galaxy of the Swift short-duration gamma-ray burst (SGRB) GRB 181123B. Observations with Gemini-North starting ≈9.1 hr after the burst reveal a faint optical afterglow with i ≈ 25.1 mag at an angular offset of 0.″59 0.″16 from its host galaxy. Using grizYJHK observations, we measure a photometric redshift of the host galaxy of z=1.77-0.17+0.30. From a combination of Gemini and Keck spectroscopy of the host galaxy spanning 4500-18000 Å, we detect a single emission line at 13390 Å, inferred as Hβ at z = 1.754 0.001 and corroborating the photometric redshift. The host galaxy properties of GRB 181123B are typical of those of other SGRB hosts, with an inferred stellar mass of ≈9.1 109 M o˙, a mass-weighted age of ≈0.9 Gyr, and an optical luminosity of ≈0.9L∗. At z = 1.754, GRB 181123B is the most distant secure SGRB with an optical afterglow detection and one of only three at z > 1.5. Motivated by a growing number of high-z SGRBs, we explore the effects of a missing z > 1.5 SGRB population among the current Swift sample on delay time distribution (DTD) models. We find that lognormal models with mean delay times of ≈4-6 Gyr are consistent with the observed distribution but can be ruled out to 95% confidence, with an additional ≈one to five Swift SGRBs recovered at z > 1.5. In contrast, power-law models with ∝t -1 are consistent with the redshift distribution and can accommodate up to ≈30 SGRBs at these redshifts. Under this model, we predict that ≈1/3 of the current Swift population of SGRBs is at z > 1. The future discovery or recovery of existing high-z SGRBs will provide significant discriminating power on their DTDs and thus their formation channels.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberL32
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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