Optical emission from a kilonova following a gravitational-wave-detected neutron-star merger

Abstract

The merger of two neutron stars has been predicted to produce an optical–infrared transient (lasting a few days) known as a ‘kilonova’, powered by the radioactive decay of neutron-rich species synthesized in the merger1,2,3,4,5. Evidence that short γ-ray bursts also arise from neutron-star mergers has been accumulating6,7,8. In models2,9 of such mergers, a small amount of mass (10−4–10−2 solar masses) with a low electron fraction is ejected at high velocities (0.1–0.3 times light speed) or carried out by winds from an accretion disk formed around the newly merged object10,11. This mass is expected to undergo rapid neutron capture (r-process) nucleosynthesis, leading to the formation of radioactive elements that release energy as they decay, powering an electromagnetic transient1,2,3,9,10,11,12,13,14. A large uncertainty in the composition of the newly synthesized material leads to various expected colours, durations and luminosities for such transients11,12,13,14. Observational evidence for kilonovae has so far been inconclusive because it was based on cases15,16,17,18,19 of moderate excess emission detected in the afterglows of γ-ray bursts. Here we report optical to near-infrared observations of a transient coincident with the detection of the gravitational-wave signature of a binary neutron-star merger and with a low-luminosity short-duration γ-ray burst20. Our observations, taken roughly every eight hours over a few days following the gravitational-wave trigger, reveal an initial blue excess, with fast optical fading and reddening. Using numerical models21, we conclude that our data are broadly consistent with a light curve powered by a few hundredths of a solar mass of low-opacity material corresponding to lanthanide-poor (a fraction of 10−4.5 by mass) ejecta.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Localizations of the gravitational wave, the γ-ray burst and the kilonova on the sky.
Figure 2: LCO discovery image of the kilonova AT 2017gfo in the galaxy NGC 4993.
Figure 3: LCO light curves of the kilonova AT 2017gfo.

References

  1. 1

    Li, L.-X. & Paczyn´ ski, B. Transient events from neutron star mergers. Astrophys. J. 507, L59 (1998)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    Rosswog, S. Mergers of neutron star–black hole binaries with small mass ratios: nucleosynthesis, γ-ray bursts, and electromagnetic transients. Astrophys. J. 634, 1202–1213 (2005)

    ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Metzger, B. D. et al. Electromagnetic counterparts of compact object mergers powered by the radioactive decay of r-process nuclei. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 406, 2650–2662 (2010)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Wollaeger, R. T. et al. Impact of ejecta morphology and composition on the electromagnetic signature of neutron star mergers. Preprint at https://arxiv.org/abs/1705.07084 (2017)

  5. 5

    Metzger, B. D. Kilonovae. Living Rev. Relativ. 20, 3 (2017)

    ADS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Eichler, D. et al. Nucleosynthesis, neutrino bursts and γ-rays from coalescing neutron stars. Nature 340, 126–128 (1989)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  7. 7

    Narayan, R., Paczynski, B. & Piran, T. γ-ray bursts as the death throes of massive binary stars. Astrophys. J. 395, L83 (1992)

    ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    Fong, W. & Berger, E. The locations of short γ-ray bursts as evidence for compact object binary progenitors. Astrophys. J. 776, 18 (2013)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    Hotokezaka, K. et al. Mass ejection from the merger of binary neutron stars. Phys. Rev. D 87, 024001 (2013)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    Kasen, D., Fernández, R. & Metzger, B. D. Kilonova light curves from the disc wind outflows of compact object mergers. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 450, 1777–1786 (2015)

    ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. 11

    Grossman, D. et al. The long-term evolution of neutron star merger remnants. II. Radioactively powered transients. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 439, 757–770 (2014)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  12. 12

    Barnes, J. & Kasen, D. Effect of a high opacity on the light curves radioactively powered transients from compact object mergers. Astrophys. J. 775, 18–26 (2013)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  13. 13

    Kasen, D., Badnell, N. R. & Barnes, J. Opacities and spectra of the r-process ejecta from neutron star mergers. Astrophys. J. 774, 25–37 (2013)

    ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  14. 14

    Tanaka, M. & Hotokezaka, K. Radiative transfer simulations of neutron star merger ejecta. Astrophys. J. 775, 113–128 (2013)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  15. 15

    Perley, D. A. et al. GRB 080503: implications of a naked short γ-ray burst dominated by extended emission. Astrophys. J. 696, 1871–1885 (2009)

    ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  16. 16

    Tanvir, N. R. et al. A ‘kilonova’ associated with the short-duration γ-ray burst GRB 130603B. Nature 500, 547–549 (2013)

    ADS  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  17. 17

    Berger, E., Fong, W. & Chornock, R. An r-process kilonova associated with the short-hard GRB 130603B. Astrophys. J. 774, L23 (2013)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  18. 18

    Yang, B. et al. A possible macronova in the late afterglow of the long-short burst GRB 060614. Nat. Commun. 6, 7323 (2015)

    ADS  CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  19. 19

    Jin, Z.-P. et al. The macronova in GRB 050709 and the GRB-macronova connection. Nat. Commun. 7, 12898 (2016)

    ADS  CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  20. 20

    Abbott, B. P. et al. Multi-messenger observations of a binary neutron star merger. Astrophys. J. 848, https://doi.org/10.3847/2041-8213/aa91c9 (2017)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  21. 21

    Kasen, D. et al. Origin of the heavy elements in binary neutron-star mergers from a gravitational-wave event. Nature http://doi.org/10.1038/nature24453 (2017)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  22. 22

    LIGO Scientific Collaboration and Virgo Collaboration. GW170817: observation of gravitational waves from a binary neutron star inspiral. Phys. Rev. Lett. https://doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevLett.119.161101 (2017)

  23. 23

    LIGO Scientific Collaboration et al. Advanced LIGO. Class. Quantum Gravity 32, 074001 (2015)

  24. 24

    Acernese, F. et al. Advanced Virgo: a second generation interferometric gravitational wave detector. Class. Quantum Gravity 32, 024001 (2015)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  25. 25

    Connaughton, V. Fermi GBM trigger 170817.529 and LIGO single IFO trigger. GCN Circ. 21506 (2017)

  26. 26

    LIGO Scientific Collaboration and Virgo Collaboration. LIGO/Virgo G298048: further analysis of a binary neutron star candidate with updated sky localization. GCN Circ. 21513 (2017)

  27. 27

    Brown, T. M. et al. Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network. Publ. Astron. Soc. Pacif. 125, 1031–1055 (2013)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  28. 28

    Gehrels, N. et al. Galaxy strategy for LIGO-Virgo gravitational wave counterpart searches. Astrophys. J. 820, 136–144 (2016)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  29. 29

    Singer, L. P. & Price, L. R. Rapid Bayesian position reconstruction for gravitational-wave transients. Phys. Rev. D 93, 024013 (2016)

    ADS  MathSciNet  Google Scholar 

  30. 30

    Freedman, W. L. et al. Final results from the Hubble Space Telescope key project to measure the Hubble Constant. Astrophys. J. 553, 47–72 (2001)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  31. 31

    Coulter, D. A. et al. LIGO/Virgo G298048: potential optical counterpart discovered by Swope telescope. GCN Circ. 21529 (2017)

  32. 32

    Dietrich, T. & Ujevic, M. Gravitational waves and mass ejecta from binary neutron star mergers: effect of the mass ratio. Class. Quantum Gravity 34, 105014 (2017)

    ADS  MATH  Google Scholar 

  33. 33

    McCully, C. et al. The rapid reddening and featureless optical spectra of the optical counterpart of GW170817, AT 2017gfo, during the first four days. Astrophys. J. (in the press)

  34. 34

    Lippuner, J. & Roberts, L. F. r-process lanthanide production and heating rates in kilonovae. Astrophys. J. 815, 82 (2015)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  35. 35

    Kasliwal, M. et al. Illuminating gravitational waves: a concordant picture of photons from a neutron star merger. Science http://doi.org/10.1126/science.aap9455 (2017)

    ADS  CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  36. 36

    Arcavi, I. et al. Optical follow-up of gravitational-wave events with Las Cumbres Observatory. Astrophys. J. (in the press)

  37. 37

    Allam S. et al. LIGO/Virgo G298048: DECam optical candidate. GCN Circ. 21530 (2017)

  38. 38

    Yang, S. et al. LIGO/Virgo G298048: DLT40 optical candidate. GCN Circ. 21531 (2017)

  39. 39

    Tanvir, N. R. & Levan, A. J. LIGO/Virgo G298048: VISTA/VIRCAM detection of candidate counterpart. GCN Circ. 21544 (2017)

  40. 40

    Lipunov, M. et al. LIGO/Virgo G297595: MASTER observations of the NGC 4993. GCN Circ. 21546 (2017)

  41. 41

    Coulter, D. A. et al. Swope Supernova Survey 2017a (SSS17a), the optical counterpart to a gravitational wave source. Science http://doi.org/10.1126/science.aap9811 (2017)

    ADS  CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  42. 42

    Soares-Santos, M. et al. The electromagnetic counterpart of the binary neutron star merger LIGO/VIRGO GW170817. I. Discovery of the optical counterpart using the dark energy camera. Astrophys. J. 848, https://doi.org/10.3847/2041-8213/aa9059 (2017)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  43. 43

    Valenti, S. et al. The discovery of the electromagnetic counterpart of GW170817: kilonova AT 2017gfo/DLT17ck. Astrophys. J. 848, https://doi.org/10.3847/2041-8213/aa8edf (2017)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  44. 44

    Valenti, S. et al. The diversity of type II supernovae versus the similarity in their progenitors. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 459, 3939–3962 (2016)

    ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  45. 45

    Becker, A. HOTPANTS: High Order Transform of PSF ANd Template Subtraction. Astrophys. Source Code Lib. ascl :1504.004 (2015)

    Google Scholar 

  46. 46

    Henden, A. A. et al. The AAVSO Photometric All-Sky Survey (APASS). AAS Meet. Abstr. 214, 407.02 (2009)

    Google Scholar 

  47. 47

    Schlafly, E. F. & Finkbeiner, D. P. Measuring reddening with Sloan Digital Sky Survey stellar spectra and recalibrating SFD. Astrophys. J. 737, 103–115 (2011)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  48. 48

    Foreman-Mackey, D., Hogg, D. W., Lang, D. & Goodman, J. emcee: the MCMC Hammer. Publ. Astron. Soc. Pacif. 125, 306–312 (2013)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  49. 49

    Arcavi, I. Hydrogen-rich core collapse supernovae. In Handbook of Supernovae (eds Alsabti, A. W . & Murdin, P. ) (Springer, in the press)

  50. 50

    Conley, A. et al. SiFTO: an empirical method for fitting SN Ia light curves. Astrophys. J. 681, 482–498 (2008)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  51. 51

    Taddia, F. et al. Early-time light curves of type Ib/c supernovae from the SDSS-II supernova survey. Astron. Astrophys. 574, A60 (2015)

    Google Scholar 

  52. 52

    Poznanski, D. et al. An unusually fast-evolving supernova. Science 327, 58–60 (2010)

    ADS  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  53. 53

    Kasliwal, M. M. et al. Rapidly decaying supernova 2010X: a candidate “.Ia” explosion. Astrophys. J. 723, L98 (2010)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  54. 54

    Leonard, D. C. et al. The distance to SN 1999em in NGC 1637 from the expanding photosphere method. Publ. Astron. Soc. Pacif. 114, 35–64 (2002)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  55. 55

    Yang, S. et al. LIGO/Virgo G298048: continued observation for DLT17ck. GCN Circ. 21579 (2017)

  56. 56

    Tonry J. et al. LIGO/Virgo G298048: ATLAS pre-discovery limits 601 to 16 days before first detection of SSS17a/DLT17ck. GCN Circ. 21886 (2017)

  57. 57

    Korobkin, O., Rosswog, S., Arcones, A. & Winteler, C. On the astrophysical robustness of the neutron star merger r-process. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 426, 1940–1949 (2012)

    ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  58. 58

    Kulkarni, S. R. Modeling supernova-like explosions associated with gamma-ray bursts with short durations. Preprint at https://arxiv.org/abs/astro-ph/0510256 (2005)

  59. 59

    Coughlin, M. et al. Towards rapid transient identification and characterization of kilonovae. Preprint at https://arxiv.org/abs/1708.07714 (2017)

  60. 60

    Barnes, J., Kasen, D., Wu, M.-R. & Martínez-Pinedo, G. Radioactivity and thermalization in the ejecta of compact object mergers and their impact on kilonova light curves. Astrophys. J. 829, 110–129 (2016)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  61. 61

    Law, N. M. et al. The Palomar Transient Factory: system overview, performance and first results. Publ. Astron. Soc. Pacif. 121, 1395–1408 (2009)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  62. 62

    Rau, A. et al. Exploring the optical transient sky with the Palomar Transient Factory. Publ. Astron. Soc. Pacif. 121, 1334–1351 (2009)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  63. 63

    Guillochon, J. et al. An open catalog for supernova data. Astrophys. J. 835, 64 (2017)

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  64. 64

    Lipunov, V. et al. MASTER optical detection of the first LIGO/Virgo NSs merging GW170817/G298048. Astrophys. J. (in the press)

Download references

Acknowledgements

We are indebted to W. Rosing and the LCO staff for making these observations possible, and to the LIGO and Virgo science collaborations. We thank L. Singer, T. Piran and W. Fong for assistance with planning the LCO observing program. We appreciate assistance and guidance from the LIGO–Virgo Collaboration—Electromagnetic follow-up liaisons. We thank B. Tafreshi and G. M. Árnason for helping to secure Internet connections in Iceland while this paper was being reviewed. Support for I.A. and J.B. was provided by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) through the Einstein Fellowship Program (via grant numbers PF6-170148 and PF7-180162, respectively). G.H., D.A.H. and C.M. are supported by US National Science Foundation (NSF) grant AST-1313484. D.P. and D.M. acknowledge support by Israel Science Foundation grant number 541/17. D.K. is supported in part by a Department of Energy (DOE) Early Career award DE-SC0008067, a DOE Office of Nuclear Physics award DE-SC0017616, and a DOE SciDAC award DE-SC0018297, and by the Director, Office of Energy Research, Office of High Energy and Nuclear Physics, Divisions of Nuclear Physics, of the US Department of Energy under contract number DE-AC02-05CH11231. This research used resources of the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, a DOE Office of Science User Facility supported by the Office of Science of the US Department of Energy under contract number DE AC02-05CH11231. This research has made use of the NASA/IPAC Extragalactic Database, which is operated by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under contract with NASA. The Digitized Sky Surveys were produced at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) under US Government grant number NAG W-2166. The UK Schmidt Telescope was operated by the Royal Observatory Edinburgh, with funding from the UK Science and Engineering Research Council (later the UK Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council), until June 1988, and thereafter by the Anglo-Australian Observatory. Supplementary funding for sky-survey work at the STScI is provided by the European Southern Observatory.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

I.A. is Principal Investigator of the LCO gravitational-wave follow-up program; he initiated and analysed the observations presented here and wrote the manuscript. G.H. helped with the LCO alert listener and ingestion pipeline, with follow-up observations and image analysis, and performed the blackbody fits. D.A.H. is the LCO–LIGO liaison, head of the LCO supernova group, and helped with the manuscript. C.M. assisted with obtaining and analysing data, and helped with the LCO alert listener. D.P. helped design the LCO follow-up program, assisted with the galaxy prioritization pipeline and contributed to the manuscript. D.K. and J.B. developed theoretical models and interpretations. M.Z. built the galaxy prioritization pipeline. S. Vasylyev built the LCO alert listener and ingestion pipeline. D.M. helped in discussions and with the manuscript. S. Valenti helped with image analysis and with the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Iair Arcavi.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Additional information

Reviewer Information Nature thanks R. Chevalier, C. Miller and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher's note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Figure 1 Timeline of the discovery and the observability of AT 2017gfo in the first 24 h following the merger.

The curved lines denote the airmass and altitude (in degrees above the horizon) of the position of AT 2017gfo on the sky at each LCO Southern Hemisphere site from the start of the night until the hour-angle limit of the LCO 1-m telescopes. The vertical thick lines denote the times when LCO images were obtained (colours correspond to the different filters as denoted in the legend of Fig. 3). AT 2017gfo was observable for approximately 1.5 h at the beginning of the night. Having three Southern Hemisphere sites allowed us to detect the kilonova approximately 6.5 h after the LIGO-Virgo localization, follow it approximately 10 h later, and continue to observe it three times per 24-h period for the following days (Fig. 3). Counterpart announcement is from ref. 31.

Extended Data Figure 2 Blackbody fits.

MCMC parameter distributions (af) and spectral energy distributions (luminosity density Lλ as a function of wavelength) with the blackbody fits (gl) are shown for the six epochs (noted by their modified Julian dates, MJD) with observations in more than two bands after excluding w-band data. In the parameter distributions, contour lines denote 50% and 90% bounds, the red and blue solid lines overplotted on each histogram denote the mean and median of each parameter distribution (respectively), and the dashed lines denote 68% confidence bounds. Error bars on the luminosity densities denote 1σ uncertainties.

Extended Data Figure 3 Bolometric luminosity, photospheric radius and temperature deduced from blackbody fits.

Error bars denote 1σ uncertainties (n = 200). The large uncertainties in the later epochs might be due to a blackbody that peaks redward of our available data, so these data points should be considered to be temperature upper limits. Our MCMC fits of an analytical model32 to the bolometric luminosity are shown in blue, and the numerical models21 from Fig. 3 are shown in red in the top panel. The numerical models were tailored to fit Vriw bands, but not the g band, which is driving the high bolometric luminosity at early times.

Extended Data Figure 4 AT 2017gfo evolves faster than any known supernova, contributing to its classification as a kilonova.

We compare our w-band data of AT 2017gfo (red; arrows denote 5σ non-detection upper limits reported by others55,56) to r-band templates of common supernova types (types Ia and Ib/c normalized to peaks of −19 mag and −18 mag, respectively)50,51, to r-band data of two rapidly evolving supernovae52,53 (SN 2002bj and SN 2010X) and to R-band data of the drop from the plateau of the prototypical type IIP supernova54 SN 1999em (dashed line; shifted by 1 mag for clarity).

Extended Data Figure 5 Peak luminosity and time of AT 2017gfo compared to simple analytical predictions.

The parameters11 from equations (1) and (2) are shown for different values of the ejecta mass Mej (solid lines), the opacity κ (dashed lines), and for two different ejecta velocities vej (red and blue lines). The rise time and peak luminosity of AT 2017gfo (black arrow) can be reproduced by an ejecta velocity vej ≈ 0.3c and a low opacity of κ 1 cm2 g−1. Matching the data with higher opacities would require higher ejecta velocities.

Extended Data Figure 6 Parameter distribution for MCMC fits of analytical kilonova models32 to our bolometric light curve.

The contour lines denote 50% and 90% bounds. The red and blue solid lines overplotted on each histogram denote the mean and median of each parameter distribution (respectively). The dashed lines denote 68% confidence bounds. The fits converge on an ejecta mass of (4.02 ± 0.05) × 10−2M but they do not constrain the velocity (converging on the largest possible range) or the geometrical parameters (θej and Φej), nor do they reproduce the colour evolution of our event (not shown). This indicates that these models may not be entirely valid for AT 2017gfo (although in ref. 59 it is shown that the geometrical parameters cannot be constrained either way). Our numerical models21, on the other hand, which include detailed radiation transport calculations, do provide a good fit to the data (Fig. 3) with Mej = (2–2.5) × 10−2M, vej = 0.3c, and a lanthanide mass fraction of Xlan = 10−4.5, corresponding to an effective opacity of κ 1 cm2 g−1.

Extended Data Figure 7 Expected kilonova rates in optical transient surveys.

The number of AT 2017gfo-like events per year detectable by r-band transient surveys in two (solid lines), three (dashed lines) and five (dotted lines) epochs before fading from view. The numbers of events refer to the entire sky, and should be multiplied by the fraction of sky covered by the survey. We assume that the intrinsic rate of events is one per year out to 40 Mpc (scaling accordingly to larger distances).

PowerPoint slides

Source data

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Arcavi, I., Hosseinzadeh, G., Howell, D. et al. Optical emission from a kilonova following a gravitational-wave-detected neutron-star merger. Nature 551, 64–66 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature24291

Download citation

Further reading

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.

Search

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing