Research Article

Electromagnetic evidence that SSS17a is the result of a binary neutron star merger

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Science  22 Dec 2017:
Vol. 358, Issue 6370, pp. 1583-1587
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaq0073

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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

Eleven hours after the detection of gravitational wave source GW170817 by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory and Virgo Interferometers, an associated optical transient, SSS17a, was identified in the galaxy NGC 4993. Although the gravitational wave data indicate that GW170817 is consistent with the merger of two compact objects, the electromagnetic observations provide independent constraints on the nature of that system. We synthesize the optical to near-infrared photometry and spectroscopy of SSS17a collected by the One-Meter Two-Hemisphere collaboration, finding that SSS17a is unlike other known transients. The source is best described by theoretical models of a kilonova consisting of radioactive elements produced by rapid neutron capture (the r-process). We conclude that SSS17a was the result of a binary neutron star merger, reinforcing the gravitational wave result.

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