We report the discovery of the unusually bright long-duration gamma-ray burst (GRB), GRB 221009A, as observed by the Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory (Swift), Monitor of All-sky X-ray Image, and Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer Mission. This energetic GRB was located relatively nearby (z = 0.151), allowing for sustained observations of the afterglow. The large X-ray luminosity and low Galactic latitude (b = 4.°3) make GRB 221009A a powerful probe of dust in the Milky Way. Using echo tomography, we map the line-of-sight dust distribution and find evidence for significant column densities at large distances (≳10 kpc). We present analysis of the light curves and spectra at X-ray and UV-optical wavelengths, and find that the X-ray afterglow of GRB 221009A is more than an order of magnitude brighter at T 0 + 4.5 ks than that from any previous GRB observed by Swift. In its rest frame, GRB 221009A is at the high end of the afterglow luminosity distribution, but not uniquely so. In a simulation of randomly generated bursts, only 1 in 104 long GRBs were as energetic as GRB 221009A; such a large E γ,iso implies a narrow jet structure, but the afterglow light curve is inconsistent with simple top-hat jet models. Using the sample of Swift GRBs with redshifts, we estimate that GRBs as energetic and nearby as GRB 221009A occur at a rate of ≲1 per 1000 yr—making this a truly remarkable opportunity unlikely to be repeated in our lifetime.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Astronomy and Astrophysics
- Space and Planetary Science