Gamma-ray burst emission is believed to be released in jets, not spherical shells. Initially the two scenarios are equivalent: the center of the jet is not "aware" of the jet edge, and due to relativistic beaming we only see a small fraction of the jet. However, as the jet slows down, two things eventually occur (each at about the same time): First, information from the edge of the jet that there is no pressure to the side propagates to its center, and the jet matter can spread laterally. Second, relativistic beaming effects subside, and once Earth observers see the entire jet the widening of the relativistic beam is no longer compensated by the fact that we see a larger emitting region. Once these effects appear the jet fades very rapidly, an effect that is visible as a power-law "break" in the afterglow light curve. This is the so-called "jet break" that has been seen in some events and is often cited as evidence for the consensus view of GRBs as jets. Many GRB afterglows do not display jet breaks, especially in the X-ray, but they are more common in the optical light curves. Though as jet breaks generally occur at very late times (~1 day or more) when the afterglow is quite faint, and often undetectable, this is not necessarily surprising.
Read more about this topic: Gamma-ray Burst Emission Mechanisms
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