Research Article

Swope Supernova Survey 2017a (SSS17a), the optical counterpart to a gravitational wave source

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Science  22 Dec 2017:
Vol. 358, Issue 6370, pp. 1556-1558
DOI: 10.1126/science.aap9811

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Photons from a gravitational wave event

Two neutron stars merging together generate a gravitational wave signal and have also been predicted to emit electromagnetic radiation. When the gravitational wave event GW170817 was detected, astronomers rushed to search for the source using conventional telescopes (see the Introduction by Smith). Coulter et al. describe how the One-Meter Two-Hemispheres (1M2H) collaboration was the first to locate the electromagnetic source. Drout et al. present the 1M2H measurements of its optical and infrared brightness, and Shappee et al. report their spectroscopy of the event, which is unlike previously detected astronomical transient sources. Kilpatrick et al. show how these observations can be explained by an explosion known as a kilonova, which produces large quantities of heavy elements in nuclear reactions.

Science, this issue p. 1556, p. 1570, p. 1574, p. 1583; see also p. 1554


On 17 August 2017, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and the Virgo interferometer detected gravitational waves (GWs) emanating from a binary neutron star merger, GW170817. Nearly simultaneously, the Fermi and INTEGRAL (INTErnational Gamma-Ray Astrophysics Laboratory) telescopes detected a gamma-ray transient, GRB 170817A. At 10.9 hours after the GW trigger, we discovered a transient and fading optical source, Swope Supernova Survey 2017a (SSS17a), coincident with GW170817. SSS17a is located in NGC 4993, an S0 galaxy at a distance of 40 megaparsecs. The precise location of GW170817 provides an opportunity to probe the nature of these cataclysmic events by combining electromagnetic and GW observations.

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