Research Article

Light curves of the neutron star merger GW170817/SSS17a: Implications for r-process nucleosynthesis

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Science  22 Dec 2017:
Vol. 358, Issue 6370, pp. 1570-1574
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaq0049

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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

Abstract

On 17 August 2017, gravitational waves (GWs) were detected from a binary neutron star merger, GW170817, along with a coincident short gamma-ray burst, GRB 170817A. An optical transient source, Swope Supernova Survey 17a (SSS17a), was subsequently identified as the counterpart of this event. We present ultraviolet, optical, and infrared light curves of SSS17a extending from 10.9 hours to 18 days postmerger. We constrain the radioactively powered transient resulting from the ejection of neutron-rich material. The fast rise of the light curves, subsequent decay, and rapid color evolution are consistent with multiple ejecta components of differing lanthanide abundance. The late-time light curve indicates that SSS17a produced at least ~0.05 solar masses of heavy elements, demonstrating that neutron star mergers play a role in rapid neutron capture (r-process) nucleosynthesis in the universe.

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