Strongly variable z = 1.48 Fe II and Mg II absorption in the spectra of z = 4.05 GRB 060206

H. Hao, K. Z. Stanek, A. Dobrzycki, T. Matheson, M. C. Bentz, J. Kuraszkiewicz, P. M. Garnavich, J. C. Howk, M. L. Calkins, G. Worthey, M. Modjaz, J. Serven

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    We report on the discovery of strongly variable Fe II and Mg II absorption lines seen at z = 1.48 in the spectra of the z = 4.05 ORB 060206 obtained between 4.13 and 7.63 hr (observer frame) after the burst. In particular, the Fe II line equivalent width (EW) decayed rapidly from 1.72 ± 0.25 Å to 0.28 ± 0.21 A, only to increase to 0.96 ± 0.21 Å in a later spectrum. The Mg II doublet shows even more complicated evolution: the weaker line of the doublet drops from 2.05 ± 0.25 Å to 0.92 ± 0.32 Å but then more than doubles to 2.47 ± 0.41 Å in later data. The ratio of the EWs for the Mg II doublet is also variable, being closer to 1 : 1 (saturated regime) when the lines are stronger and becoming closer to 2 : 1 (unsaturated regime) when the lines are weaker, consistent with expectations based on atomic physics. We have investigated and rejected the possibility of any instrumental or atmospheric effects causing the observed strong variations. Our discovery of clearly variable intervening Fe II and Mg II lines immediately indicates that the characteristic size of intervening patches of Mg II "clouds" is comparable to the GRB beam size, i.e., about 1016 cm. We discuss various implications of this discovery, including the nature of the Mg II absorbers, the physics of GRBs, and measurements of chemical abundances from GRB and quasar absorption lines.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)L99-L102
    JournalAstrophysical Journal
    Issue number2 II
    StatePublished - Apr 20 2007


    • Galaxies: ISM
    • Gamma rays: bursts
    • Intergalactic medium

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Astronomy and Astrophysics
    • Space and Planetary Science


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