Uncovering the intrinsic variability of gamma-ray bursts

Vahid Z. Golkhou, Nathaniel Butler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


We develop a robust technique to determine the minimum variability timescale for gamma-ray burst (GRB) light curves, utilizing Haar wavelets. Our approach averages over the data for a given GRB, providing an aggregate measure of signal variation while also retaining sensitivity to narrow pulses within complicated time series. In contrast to previous studies using wavelets, which simply define the minimum timescale in reference to the measurement noise floor, our approach identifies the signature of temporally smooth features in the wavelet scaleogram and then additionally identifies a break in the scaleogram on longer timescales as a signature of a true, temporally unsmooth light curve feature or features. We apply our technique to the large sample of Swift GRB gamma-ray light curves and for the first time - due to the presence of a large number of GRBs with measured redshift - determine the distribution of minimum variability timescales in the source frame. We find a median minimum timescale for long-duration GRBs in the source frame of Δt min = 0.5 s, with the shortest timescale found being on the order of 10 ms. This short timescale suggests a compact central engine (3 × 103 km). We discuss further implications for the GRB fireball model and present a tantalizing correlation between the minimum timescale and redshift, which may in part be due to cosmological time dilation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number90
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 20 2014


  • gamma-ray burst: general
  • methods: data analysis
  • methods: statistical

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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