Massive stars formed in atomic hydrogen reservoirs: H I observations of gamma-ray burst host galaxies

M.~J. Michalowski, G. Gentile, J. Hjorth, M.~R. Krumholz, N.~R. Tanvir, P. Kamphuis, D. Burlon, M. Baes, S. Basa, S. Berta, J.~M. Castro Cerón, D. Crosby, V. D'Elia, J. Elliott, J. Greiner, L.~K. Hunt, S. Klose, M.~P. Koprowski, E. Le Floc'h, D. MalesaniT. Murphy, A. Nicuesa Guelbenzu, E. Palazzi, J. Rasmussen, A. Rossi, S. Savaglio, P. Schady, J. Sollerman, A. de Ugarte Postigo, D. Watson, P. van der Werf, S.~D. Vergani, D. Xu

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Long gamma-ray bursts (GRBs), among the most energetic events in the Universe, are explosions of massive and short-lived stars, so they pinpoint locations of recent star formation. However, several GRB host galaxies have recently been found to be deficient in molecular gas (H2), believed to be the fuel of star formation. Moreover, optical spectroscopy of GRB afterglows implies that the molecular phase constitutes only a small fraction of the gas along the GRB line of sight. Here we report the first ever 21 cm line observations of GRB host galaxies, using the AustraliaTelescope Compact Array, implying high levels of atomic hydrogen (H i), which suggests that the connection between atomic gas and star formation is stronger than previously thought. In this case, it is possible that star formation is directly fuelled by atomic gas (or that the H i-to-H2 conversion is very efficient, which rapidly exhaust molecular gas), as has been theoretically shown to be possible. This can happen in low-metallicity gas near the onset of star formation because cooling of gas (necessary for star formation) is faster than the H i-to-H2 conversion. Indeed, large atomic gas reservoirs, together with low molecular gas masses, stellar, and dust masses are consistent with GRB hosts being preferentially galaxies which have very recently started a star formation episode after accreting metal-poor gas from the intergalactic medium. This provides a natural route for forming GRBs in low-metallicity environments. The gas inflow scenario is also consistent with the existence of the companion H I object with no optical counterpart ~19 kpc from the GRB 060505 host, and with the fact that the H I centroids of the GRB 980425 and 060505 hosts do not coincide with optical centres of these galaxies, but are located close to the GRB positions.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberA78
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalAstronomy & Astrophysics
Early online date12 Oct 2015
Publication statusPublished - 31 Oct 2015


  • dust
  • extinction
  • galaxies
  • star formation
  • gamma-ray burst
  • radio continuum
  • radio lines


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