Dr. Brian Metzger

Columbia University

"Observational Signatures of Coalescing Compact Binaries"

A fraction of binary neutron stars are sufficiently compact that they will completely merge due to the emission of gravitational waves within a Hubble time. Such mergers are among the most promising sources for the direct detection of gravitational waves with ground based interferometers such as Advanced LIGO. Maximizing the scientific return of such a detection will, however, require identifying a coincident electromagnetic (EM) counterpart. One possible counterpart is a short duration gamma ray burst (GRB), powered by the accretion of material that remains in a rotationally supported torus around the central black hole. Although observations of short GRBs are largely consistent with the merger model, the puzzling discovery has been made that many of them are followed by late ray flaring, which does not fit current theory and may require considering alternative progenitor models. Another source of EM emission is a supernova like optical transient, powered by the radioactive decay of heavy elements synthesized in neutron rich ejecta from the merger. I will present the first calculations of the radioactively powered transients from mergers that include realistic nuclear physics and radiative transport, and I will discuss the prospects for detecting and identifying such events following a gravitational wave trigger. In the second part of my talk I will describe a model for accretion following the tidal disruption of a white dwarf by a neutron star. I will demonstrate that densities and temperatures in the disk are sufficiently high to burn the white dwarf material into increasingly heavier elements at sequentially smaller radii. Because the energy released by nuclear reactions is comparable to that released gravitationally, I introduce the concept of a "nuclear dominated accretion flow". Outflows from the disk power a ~ week long transient, which may be related to some classes of recently discovered subluminous supernovae.

Back to Spring 2013 Astrophysics Seminars

Received Feb 13, 2013