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Published June 2019 | public
Journal Article Open

A Strategy for LSST to Unveil a Population of Kilonovae without Gravitational-wave Triggers


We present a cadence optimization strategy to unveil a large population of kilonovae using optical imaging alone. These transients are generated during binary neutron star and potentially neutron star–black hole mergers and are electromagnetic counterparts to gravitational-wave signals detectable in nearby events with Advanced LIGO, Advanced Virgo, and other interferometers that will be online in the near future. Discovering a large population of kilonovae will allow us to determine how heavy-element production varies with the intrinsic parameters of the merger and across cosmic time. The rate of binary neutron star mergers is still uncertain, but only few (≾ 15) events with associated kilonovae may be detectable per year within the horizon of next-generation ground-based interferometers. The rapid evolution (~days) at optical/infrared wavelengths, relatively low luminosity, and the low volumetric rate of kilonovae makes their discovery difficult, especially during blind surveys of the sky. We propose future large surveys to adopt a rolling cadence in which g-i observations are taken nightly for blocks of 10 consecutive nights. With the current baseline2018a cadence designed for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), l≾ 7.5 poorly sampled kilonovae are expected to be detected in both the Wide Fast Deep (WFD) and Deep Drilling Fields (DDF) surveys per year, under optimistic assumptions on their rate, duration, and luminosity. We estimate the proposed strategy to return up to ~272 GW170817-like kilonovae throughout the LSST WFD survey, discovered independently from gravitational-wave triggers.

Additional Information

© 2019. The Astronomical Society of the Pacific. Received 2019 February 1; accepted 2019 March 31; published 2019 May 6. Focus on Tools and Techniques for Time-domain Astronomy. We thank the anonymous referee for providing feedback that helped us in improving the quality of the paper. This work was developed partly within the TVS Science Collaboration and the author acknowledge the support of TVS in the preparation of this paper. This work was supported by the GROWTH project funded by the National Science Foundation under Grant No 1545949. GROWTH is a collaborative project between California Institute of Technology (USA), San Diego State University (USA), Los Alamos National Laboratory (USA), University of Maryland College Park (USA), University of Wisconsin Milwaukee (USA), Texas Tech University (USA), University of Washington (USA), Tokyo Institute of Technology (Japan), National Central University (Taiwan), Indian Institute of Astrophysics (India), Indian Institute of Technology (India), Weizmann Institute of Science (Israel), The Oskar Klein Centre at Stockholm University (Sweden), Humboldt University (Germany), Liverpool John Moores University (UK), University of Sydney (Australia). P.S.C. is grateful for support provided by NASA through the NASA Hubble Fellowship grant #HST-HF2-51404.001-A awarded by the Space Telescope Science Institute, which is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., for NASA, under contract NAS 5-26555.

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August 19, 2023
August 19, 2023