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  1. Abstract We present a comprehensive analysis of 653 optical candidate counterparts reported during the third gravitational-wave (GW) observing run. Our sample concentrates on candidates from the 15 events (published in GWTC-2, GWTC-3, or not retracted on GraceDB) that had a >1% chance of including a neutron star in order to assess their viability as true kilonovae. In particular, we leverage tools available in real time, including pre-merger detections and cross-matching with catalogs (i.e., point-source, variable-star, quasar and host-galaxy redshift data sets), to eliminate 65% of candidates in our sample. We further employ spectroscopic classifications, late-time detections, and light-curve behavior analyses and conclude that 66 candidates remain viable kilonovae. These candidates lack sufficient information to determine their classifications, and the majority would require luminosities greater than that of AT 2017gfo. Pre-merger detections in public photometric survey data and comparison of cataloged host-galaxy redshifts with the GW event distances are critical to incorporate into vetting procedures, as these tools eliminated >20% and >30% of candidates, respectively. We expect that such tools that leverage archival information will significantly reduce the strain on spectroscopic and photometric follow-up resources in future observing runs. Finally, we discuss the critical role prompt updates from GW astronomers tomore »the EM community play in reducing the number of candidates requiring vetting.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available March 1, 2023
  2. Abstract For the first ∼3 yrs after the binary neutron star merger event GW 170817, the radio and X-ray radiation has been dominated by emission from a structured relativistic off-axis jet propagating into a low-density medium with n < 0.01 cm −3 . We report on observational evidence for an excess of X-ray emission at δt > 900 days after the merger. With L x ≈ 5 × 10 38 erg s −1 at 1234 days, the recently detected X-ray emission represents a ≥3.2 σ (Gaussian equivalent) deviation from the universal post-jet-break model that best fits the multiwavelength afterglow at earlier times. In the context of JetFit afterglow models, current data represent a departure with statistical significance ≥3.1 σ , depending on the fireball collimation, with the most realistic models showing excesses at the level of ≥3.7 σ . A lack of detectable 3 GHz radio emission suggests a harder broadband spectrum than the jet afterglow. These properties are consistent with the emergence of a new emission component such as synchrotron radiation from a mildly relativistic shock generated by the expanding merger ejecta, i.e., a kilonova afterglow. In this context, we present a set of ab initio numerical relativity binarymore »neutron star (BNS) merger simulations that show that an X-ray excess supports the presence of a high-velocity tail in the merger ejecta, and argues against the prompt collapse of the merger remnant into a black hole. Radiation from accretion processes on the compact-object remnant represents a viable alternative. Neither a kilonova afterglow nor accretion-powered emission have been observed before, as detections of BNS mergers at this phase of evolution are unprecedented.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available March 1, 2023
  3. Abstract GW190814 was a compact object binary coalescence detected in gravitational waves by Advanced LIGO and Advanced Virgo that garnered exceptional community interest due to its excellent localization and the uncertain nature of the binary’s lighter-mass component (either the heaviest known neutron star, or the lightest known black hole). Despite extensive follow-up observations, no electromagnetic counterpart has been identified. Here, we present new radio observations of 75 galaxies within the localization volume at Δ t ≈ 35–266 days post-merger. Our observations cover ∼32% of the total stellar luminosity in the final localization volume and extend to later timescales than previously reported searches, allowing us to place the deepest constraints to date on the existence of a radio afterglow from a highly off-axis relativistic jet launched during the merger (assuming that the merger occurred within the observed area). For a viewing angle of ∼46° (the best-fit binary inclination derived from the gravitational wave signal) and assumed electron and magnetic field energy fractions of ϵ e = 0.1 and ϵ B = 0.01, we can rule out a typical short gamma-ray burst-like Gaussian jet with an opening angle of 15° and isotropic-equivalent kinetic energy 2 × 10 51 erg propagating into amore »constant-density medium n ≳ 0.1 cm −3 . These are the first limits resulting from a galaxy-targeted search for a radio counterpart to a gravitational wave event, and we discuss the challenges—and possible advantages—of applying similar search strategies to future events using current and upcoming radio facilities.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 1, 2022
  4. Abstract We present optical follow-up imaging obtained with the Katzman Automatic Imaging Telescope, Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network, Nickel Telescope, Swope Telescope, and Thacher Telescope of the LIGO/Virgo gravitational wave (GW) signal from the neutron star–black hole (NSBH) merger GW190814. We searched the GW190814 localization region (19 deg 2 for the 90th percentile best localization), covering a total of 51 deg 2 and 94.6% of the two-dimensional localization region. Analyzing the properties of 189 transients that we consider as candidate counterparts to the NSBH merger, including their localizations, discovery times from merger, optical spectra, likely host galaxy redshifts, and photometric evolution, we conclude that none of these objects are likely to be associated with GW190814. Based on this finding, we consider the likely optical properties of an electromagnetic counterpart to GW190814, including possible kilonovae and short gamma-ray burst afterglows. Using the joint limits from our follow-up imaging, we conclude that a counterpart with an r -band decline rate of 0.68 mag day −1 , similar to the kilonova AT 2017gfo, could peak at an absolute magnitude of at most −17.8 mag (50% confidence). Our data are not constraining for “red” kilonovae and rule out “blue” kilonovae with M >more »0.5 M ⊙ (30% confidence). We strongly rule out all known types of short gamma-ray burst afterglows with viewing angles <17° assuming an initial jet opening angle of ∼5.°2 and explosion energies and circumburst densities similar to afterglows explored in the literature. Finally, we explore the possibility that GW190814 merged in the disk of an active galactic nucleus, of which we find four in the localization region, but we do not find any candidate counterparts among these sources.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 1, 2022
  5. Abstract We examine the effect of spatial resolution on initial mass ejection in grid-based hydrodynamic simulations of binary neutron star mergers. The subset of the dynamical ejecta with velocities greater than ∼0.6 c can generate an ultraviolet precursor to the kilonova on approximately hour timescales and contribute to a years long nonthermal afterglow. Previous work has found differing amounts of this fast ejecta, by one to two orders of magnitude, when using particle-based or grid-based hydrodynamic methods. Here, we carry out a numerical experiment that models the merger as an axisymmetric collision in a corotating frame, accounting for Newtonian self-gravity, inertial forces, and gravitational wave losses. The lower computational cost allows us to reach spatial resolutions as high as 4 m, or ∼3 × 10 −4 of the stellar radius. We find that fast ejecta production converges to within 10% for a cell size of 20 m. This suggests that fast ejecta quantities found in existing grid-based merger simulations are unlikely to increase to the level needed to match particle-based results upon further resolution increases. The resulting neutron-powered precursors are in principle detectable out to distances ≲200 Mpc with upcoming facilities.We also find that head-on collisions at the freefall speed,more »relevant for eccentric mergers, yield fast and slow ejecta quantities of order 10 −2 M ⊙ , with a kilonova signature distinct from that of quasi-circular mergers.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available November 1, 2022
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