iPTF14yb: The First Discovery of a Gamma-Ray Burst Afterglow Independent of a High-energy Trigger


We report here the discovery by the Intermediate Palomar Transient Factory (iPTF) of iPTF14yb, a luminous (M$_r$≈ -27.8 mag), cosmological (redshift 1.9733), rapidly fading optical transient. We demonstrate, based on probabilistic arguments and a comparison with the broader population, that iPTF14yb is the optical afterglow of the long-duration gamma-ray burst GRB 140226A. This marks the first unambiguous discovery of a GRB afterglow prior to (and thus entirely independent of) an associated high-energy trigger. We estimate the rate of iPTF14yb-like sources (i.e., cosmologically distant relativistic explosions) based on iPTF observations, inferring an all-sky value of Re $_rel$=610 yr$^-1$ (68% confidence interval of 110-2000 yr$^-1$). Our derived rate is consistent (within the large uncertainty) with the all-sky rate of on-axis GRBs derived by the Swift satellite. Finally, we briefly discuss the implications of the nondetection to date of bona fide “orphan” afterglows (i.e., those lacking detectable high-energy emission) on GRB beaming and the degree of baryon loading in these relativistic jets.

Astrophysical Journal Letters