Illuminating gravitational waves: A concordant picture of photons from a neutron star merger

M. M. Kasliwal, E. Nakar, L. P. Singer, D. L. Kaplan, D. O. Cook, A. Van Sistine, R. M. Lau, C. Fremling, O. Gottlieb, J. E. Jencson, S. M. Adams, U. Feindt, K. Hotokezaka, S. Ghosh, D. A. Perley, P. C. Yu, T. Piran, J. R. Allison, G. C. Anupama, A. BalasubramanianK. W. Bannister, J. Bally, J. Barnes, S. Barway, E. Bellm, V. Bhalerao, D. Bhattacharya, N. Blagorodnova, J. S. Bloom, P. R. Brady, C. Cannella, D. Chatterjee, S. B. Cenko, B. E. Cobb, C. Copperwheat, A. Corsi, K. De, D. Dobie, S. W.K. Emery, P. A. Evans, O. D. Fox, D. A. Frail, C. Frohmaier, A. Goobar, G. Hallinan, F. Harrison, G. Helou, T. Hinderer, A. Y.Q. Ho, A. Horesh, W. H. Ip, R. Itoh, D. Kasen, H. Kim, N. P.M. Kuin, T. Kupfer, C. Lynch, K. Madsen, P. A. Mazzali, A. A. Miller, K. Mooley, T. Murphy, C. C. Ngeow, D. Nichols, S. Nissanke, P. Nugent, E. O. Ofek, H. Qi, R. M. Quimby, S. Rosswog, F. Rusu, E. M. Sadler, P. Schmidt, J. Sollerman, I. Steele, A. R. Williamson, Y. Xu, L. Yan, Y. Yatsu, C. Zhang, W. Zhao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

328 Scopus citations

Abstract

Merging neutron stars offer an excellent laboratory for simultaneously studying strong-field gravity and matter in extreme environments. We establish the physical association of an electromagnetic counterpart (EM170817) with gravitational waves (GW170817) detected from merging neutron stars. By synthesizing a panchromatic data set, we demonstrate that merging neutron stars are a long-sought production site forging heavy elements by r-process nucleosynthesis. The weak gamma rays seen in EM170817 are dissimilar to classical short gamma-ray bursts with ultrarelativistic jets. Instead, we suggest that breakout of a wide-angle, mildly relativistic cocoon engulfing the jet explains the low-luminosity gamma rays, the high-luminosity ultraviolet-optical-infrared, and the delayed radio and x-ray emission. We posit that all neutron star mergers may lead to a wide-angle cocoon breakout, sometimes accompanied by a successful jet and sometimes by a choked jet.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1559-1565
Number of pages7
JournalScience
Volume358
Issue number6370
DOIs
StatePublished - 22 Dec 2017

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