Detection of Wolf-Rayet stars in host galaxies of gamma-ray bursts (GRBs): are GRBs produced by runaway massive stars ejected from high stellar density regions?
Laboratoire Galaxies Étoiles Physique et Instrumentation, Observatoire de Paris-Meudon, 5 place Jules Janssen, 92195 Meudon Cedex, France e-mail: email@example.com
2 Observatoire de Genève, 51 Ch. des Maillettes, 1290 Sauverny, Switzerland
3 Laboratoire d'Astrophysique Toulouse-Tarbes, UMR 5572, 14 Av. E. Belin, 31400 Toulouse Cedex, France
4 Steward Observatory, University of Arizona, 933 North Cherry Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA
Accepted: 13 March 2006
We have obtained deep spectroscopic observations of several nearby gamma-ray burst (GRB) host galaxies revealing for the first time the presence of Wolf-Rayet (WR) stars and numerous O stars located in rich and compact clusters or star forming regions. Surprisingly, high spatial resolution imaging shows that the GRBs and the associated supernovae did not occur in these regions, but several hundreds of parsec away. Considering various scenarios for GRB progenitors, we do not find any simple explanation of why they should be preferentially born in regions with low stellar densities. All the examined GRBs and associated SNe have occurred 400 to 800 pc from very high density stellar environments including large numbers of WR stars. Such distances can be travelled through at velocities of 100 km s-1 or larger, assuming the travel time to be the typical life time of WR stars. It leads us to suggest that GRB progenitors may be runaway massive stars ejected from compact massive star clusters. The ejection from such super star clusters may lead to a spin-up of these stars, producing the loss of the hydrogen and/or helium envelopes leading to the origin of the type Ibc supernovae associated with GRBs. If this scenario applies to all GRBs, it provides a natural explanation of the very small fraction of massive stars that emit a GRB at the end of their life. An alternative to this scenario could be a binary origin for GRBs, but this still requires an explanation of why it would preferentially occur in low stellar density regions.
Key words: cosmology: observations / galaxies: stellar content / galaxies: abundances / stars: Wolf-Rayet / gamma rays: bursts / galaxies: general
© ESO, 2006