Compact radio emission indicates a structured jet was produced by a binary neutron star merger

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Science  01 Mar 2019:
Vol. 363, Issue 6430, pp. 968-971
DOI: 10.1126/science.aau8815

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Merging produced a structured jet

The binary neutron star merger event GW170817 was observed with gravitational waves and across the electromagnetic spectrum. However, the physical processes that produced that emission remain poorly understood, particularly the late-time x-ray and radio emission. Ghirlanda et al. observed the radio afterglow with an interferometric array of 32 radio telescopes spread across the globe. The size and position of the radio source are not compatible with a uniformly expanding cocoon, as some have suggested. Instead, the data indicate that GW170817 produced a structured jet of material that escaped the surrounding ejecta and is now expanding into the interstellar medium at relativistic speeds.

Science, this issue p. 968


The binary neutron star merger event GW170817 was detected through both electromagnetic radiation and gravitational waves. Its afterglow emission may have been produced by either a narrow relativistic jet or an isotropic outflow. High-spatial-resolution measurements of the source size and displacement can discriminate between these scenarios. We present very-long-baseline interferometry observations, performed 207.4 days after the merger by using a global network of 32 radio telescopes. The apparent source size is constrained to be smaller than 2.5 milli–arc seconds at the 90% confidence level. This excludes the isotropic outflow scenario, which would have produced a larger apparent size, indicating that GW170817 produced a structured relativistic jet. Our rate calculations show that at least 10% of neutron star mergers produce such a jet.

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