In this paper we present the results from the analysis of a sample of 28 gamma-ray burst (GRB) afterglow spectral energy distributions, spanning the X-ray through to near-infrared wavelengths. This is the largest sample of GRB afterglow spectral energy distributions thus far studied, providing a strong handle on the optical depth distribution of soft X-ray absorption and dust-extinction systems in GRB host galaxies. We detect an absorption system within the GRB host galaxy in 79 per cent of the sample, and an extinction system in 71 per cent of the sample, and find the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC) extinction law to provide an acceptable fit to the host galaxy extinction profile for the majority of cases, consistent with previous findings. The range in the soft X-ray absorption to dust-extinction ratio, NH,X/AV, in GRB host galaxies spans almost two orders of magnitude, and the typical ratios are significantly larger than those of the Magellanic Clouds or Milky Way. Although dust destruction could be a cause, at least in part, for the large NH,X/AV ratios, the good fit provided by the SMC extinction law for the majority of our sample suggests that there is an abundance of small dust grains in the GRB environment, which we would expect to have been destroyed if dust destruction were responsible for the large NH,X/AV ratios. Instead, our analysis suggests that the distribution of NH,X/AV in GRB host galaxies may be mostly intrinsic to these galaxies, and this is further substantiated by evidence for a strong negative correlation between NH,X/AV and metallicity for a subsample of GRB hosts with known metallicity.
- dust, extinction, galaxies: ISM, gamma-rays: bursts, gamma-rays: observations, Astrophysics - Cosmology and Nongalactic Astrophysics, Astrophysics - Astrophysics of Galaxies