We present observations of GRB 050318 by the Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope (UVOT) on board the Swift observatory. The data are the first detections of a gamma-ray burst (GRB) afterglow decay by the UVOT instrument, launched specifically to open a new window on these transient sources. We showcase UVOT's ability to provide multicolor photometry and the advantages of combining UVOT data with simultaneous and contemporaneous observations from the high-energy detectors on the Swift spacecraft. Multiple filters covering 1800-6000 Å reveal a red source with a spectral slope steeper than the simultaneous X-ray continuum. Spectral fits indicate that the UVOT colors are consistent with dust extinction by systems at z = 1.2037 and 1.4436, redshifts where absorption systems have been preidentified. However, the data can be most easily reproduced with models containing a foreground system of neutral gas redshifted by z = 2.8 ± 0.3. For both of the above scenarios, spectral and decay slopes are, for the most part, consistent with fireball expansion into a uniform medium, provided a cooling break occurs between the energy ranges of the UVOT and Swift's X-ray instrumentation.
- Astrometry, Galaxies: Distances and Redshifts, Gamma Rays: Bursts, Shock Waves, X-rays: individual (GRB 050318), Astrophysics