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A Light in the Dark: Searching for Electromagnetic Counterparts to Black Hole-Black Hole Mergers in LIGO/Virgo O3 with the Zwicky Transient Facility

Graham, Matthew J. and McKernan, Barry and Ford, K. E. Saavik and Stern, Daniel and Djorgovski, S. G. and Coughlin, Michael and Burdge, Kevin B. and Bellm, Eric C. and Helou, George and Mahabal, Ashish A. and Masci, Frank J. and Purdum, Josiah and Rosnet, Philippe and Rusholme, Ben (2023) A Light in the Dark: Searching for Electromagnetic Counterparts to Black Hole-Black Hole Mergers in LIGO/Virgo O3 with the Zwicky Transient Facility. Astrophysical Journal, 942 (2). Art. No. 99. ISSN 0004-637X. doi:10.3847/1538-4357/aca480.

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The accretion disks of active galactic nuclei (AGNs) are promising locations for the merger of compact objects detected by gravitational wave (GW) observatories. Embedded within a baryon-rich, high-density environment, mergers within AGNs are the only GW channel where an electromagnetic (EM) counterpart must occur (whether detectable or not). Considering AGNs with unusual flaring activity observed by the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF), we describe a search for candidate EM counterparts to binary black hole (BBH) mergers detected by LIGO/Virgo in O3. After removing probable false positives, we find nine candidate counterparts to BBH mergers during O3 (seven in O3a, two in O3b) with a p-value of 0.0019. Based on ZTF sky coverage, AGN geometry, and merger geometry, we expect ≈3(N_(BBH)/83)(f_(AGN)/0.5) potentially detectable EM counterparts from O3, where N_(BBH) is the total number of observed BBH mergers and f_(AGN) is the fraction originating in AGNs. Further modeling of breakout and flaring phenomena in AGN disks is required to reduce our false-positive rate. Two of the events are also associated with mergers with total masses >100 M_⊙, which is the expected rate for O3 if hierarchical (large-mass) mergers occur in the AGN channel. Candidate EM counterparts in future GW observing runs can be better constrained by coverage of the Southern sky as well as spectral monitoring of unusual AGN flaring events in LIGO/Virgo alert volumes. A future set of reliable AGN EM counterparts to BBH mergers will yield an independent means of measuring cosmic expansion (H₀) as a function of redshift.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription
Graham, Matthew J.0000-0002-3168-0139
McKernan, Barry0000-0002-9726-0508
Ford, K. E. Saavik0000-0002-5956-851X
Stern, Daniel0000-0003-2686-9241
Djorgovski, S. G.0000-0002-0603-3087
Coughlin, Michael0000-0002-8262-2924
Burdge, Kevin B.0000-0002-7226-836X
Bellm, Eric C.0000-0001-8018-5348
Helou, George0000-0003-3367-3415
Mahabal, Ashish A.0000-0003-2242-0244
Masci, Frank J.0000-0002-8532-9395
Purdum, Josiah0000-0003-1227-3738
Rosnet, Philippe0000-0002-6099-7565
Rusholme, Ben0000-0001-7648-4142
Additional Information:The authors thank Will Farr and Colm Talbot for very useful discussions about LIGO/Virgo waveform choices and parameterization. M.J.G., B.M., and K.E.S.F. acknowledge the Center for Computational Astrophysics at the Flatiron Institute, New York for their hospitality and support. This work was supported in part by the National Science Foundation grant Nos. AST-1815034, AST-1831412, and AST-2108402, the NASA grant No. 16-ADAP16-0232, and Simons Foundation grant No. 533845. The work of D.S. was carried out at Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with NASA. M.W.C. is supported by the National Science Foundation with grant Nos. PHY-2010970 and OAC-2117997. P.R. acknowledges the support received from the Agence Nationale de la Recherche of the French government through the program "Investissements d'Avenir" (16-IDEX-0001 CAP 20-25). This work made use of the Million Quasars Catalogue. Based on observations obtained with the Samuel Oschin Telescope 48 inch and the 60 inch Telescope at the Palomar Observatory as part of the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) project. ZTF is supported by the National Science Foundation under grant No. AST-1440341 and a collaboration including Caltech, IPAC, the Weizmann Institute for Science, the Oskar Klein Center at Stockholm University, the University of Maryland, the University of Washington, Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron and Humboldt University, Los Alamos National Laboratories, the TANGO Consortium of Taiwan, the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories. Operations are conducted by COO, IPAC, and UW. The ZTF forced-photometry service was funded under the Heising-Simons Foundation grant No. 12540303 (PI: Graham).
Group:Astronomy Department, Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (IPAC), Zwicky Transient Facility
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Simons Foundation533845
Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR)16-IDEX-0001 CAP 20-25
ZTF partner institutionsUNSPECIFIED
Heising-Simons Foundation12540303
Issue or Number:2
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20230206-9587900.11
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Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:119058
Deposited By: Research Services Depository
Deposited On:03 Mar 2023 16:18
Last Modified:03 Mar 2023 16:18

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