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Title: A Light in the Dark: Searching for Electromagnetic Counterparts to Black Hole–Black Hole Mergers in LIGO/Virgo O3 with the Zwicky Transient Facility
Abstract

The accretion disks of active galactic nuclei (AGNs) are promising locations for the merger of compact objects detected by gravitational wave (GW) observatories. Embedded within a baryon-rich, high-density environment, mergers within AGNs are the only GW channel where an electromagnetic (EM) counterpart must occur (whether detectable or not). Considering AGNs with unusual flaring activity observed by the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF), we describe a search for candidate EM counterparts to binary black hole (BBH) mergers detected by LIGO/Virgo in O3. After removing probable false positives, we find nine candidate counterparts to BBH mergers during O3 (seven in O3a, two in O3b) with ap-value of 0.0019. Based on ZTF sky coverage, AGN geometry, and merger geometry, we expect ≈3(NBBH/83)(fAGN/0.5) potentially detectable EM counterparts from O3, whereNBBHis the total number of observed BBH mergers andfAGNis the fraction originating in AGNs. Further modeling of breakout and flaring phenomena in AGN disks is required to reduce our false-positive rate. Two of the events are also associated with mergers with total masses >100M, which is the expected rate for O3 if hierarchical (large-mass) mergers occur in the AGN channel. Candidate EM counterparts in future GW observing runs can be better constrained by coverage of the Southern sky as well as spectral monitoring of unusual AGN flaring events in LIGO/Virgo alert volumes. A future set of reliable AGN EM counterparts to BBH mergers will yield an independent means of measuring cosmic expansion (H0) as a function of redshift.

 
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Award ID(s):
2034437 1831412 2219090 2108402
NSF-PAR ID:
10391738
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ;
Publisher / Repository:
DOI PREFIX: 10.3847
Date Published:
Journal Name:
The Astrophysical Journal
Volume:
942
Issue:
2
ISSN:
0004-637X
Format(s):
Medium: X Size: Article No. 99
Size(s):
["Article No. 99"]
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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