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

  • Author(s): Kasliwal, MM
  • Nakar, E
  • Singer, LP
  • Kaplan, DL
  • Cook, DO
  • Van Sistine, A
  • Lau, RM
  • Fremling, C
  • Gottlieb, O
  • Jencson, JE
  • Adams, SM
  • Feindt, U
  • Hotokezaka, K
  • Ghosh, S
  • Perley, DA
  • Yu, PC
  • Piran, T
  • Allison, JR
  • Anupama, GC
  • Balasubramanian, A
  • Bannister, KW
  • Bally, J
  • Barnes, J
  • Barway, S
  • Bellm, E
  • Bhalerao, V
  • Bhattacharya, D
  • Blagorodnova, N
  • Bloom, JS
  • Brady, PR
  • Cannella, C
  • Chatterjee, D
  • Cenko, SB
  • Cobb, BE
  • Copperwheat, C
  • Corsi, A
  • De, K
  • Dobie, D
  • Emery, SWK
  • Evans, PA
  • Fox, OD
  • Frail, DA
  • Frohmaier, C
  • Goobar, A
  • Hallinan, G
  • Harrison, F
  • Helou, G
  • Hinderer, T
  • Ho, AYQ
  • Horesh, A
  • Ip, WH
  • Itoh, R
  • Kasen, D
  • Kim, H
  • Kuin, NPM
  • Kupfer, T
  • Lynch, C
  • Madsen, K
  • Mazzali, PA
  • Miller, AA
  • Mooley, K
  • Murphy, T
  • Ngeow, CC
  • Nichols, D
  • Nissanke, S
  • Nugent, P
  • Ofek, EO
  • Qi, H
  • Quimby, RM
  • Rosswog, S
  • Rusu, F
  • Sadler, EM
  • Schmidt, P
  • Sollerman, J
  • Steele, I
  • Williamson, AR
  • Xu, Y
  • Yan, L
  • Yatsu, Y
  • Zhang, C
  • Zhao, W
  • et al.
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.

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