We report on the detection by Swift of GRB 080913, and subsequent optical/near-infrared follow-up observations by GROND, which led to the discovery of its optical/NIR afterglow and the recognition of its high-z nature via the detection of a spectral break between the i′ and z′ bands. Spectroscopy obtained at the ESO-VLT revealed a continuum extending down to λ = 9400 Å, and zero flux for 7500 Å< λ < 9400 Å, which we interpret as the onset of a Gunn–Peterson trough at z = 6.695± 0.025 (95.5% confidence level), making GRB 080913 the highest-redshift gamma-ray burst (GRB) to date, and more distant than the highest-redshift QSO. We note that many redshift indicators that are based on promptly available burst or afterglow properties have failed for GRB 080913. We report on our follow-up campaign and compare the properties of GRB 080913 with bursts at lower redshift. In particular, since the afterglow of this burst is fainter than typical for GRBs, we show that 2 m class telescopes can identify most high-redshift GRBs.
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