The r-Process Gold Rush: Prospecting for the Origin of the Heavy Elements using Gravity and…

5/27/2022 NOIRLab FLASH

The discovery of the first binary neutron star merger in gravitational waves, GW170817, and its associated kilonova, AT 2017gfo, across the electromagnetic spectrum was a watershed moment for astrophysics. I will present my search for AT 2017gfo using the Swope telescope, and show how our observations confirm that merging neutron stars are important sites where the r-process occurs. I will also present my work searching for two additional neutron star mergers in the last LIGO observing run: a potential neutron star-black hole merger, GW190814, and the second-ever binary neutron star merger, GW190425. Both of these events have ramifications for the elements synthesized in their ejecta. In the case of GW190814, its smaller component had a mass of ~2.6 solar masses, making it either the lightest black hole or the heaviest neutron star, ever detected. While our data do not constrain an AT 2017gfo-like kilonova, we do place constraints on all known types of short gamma-ray bursts with viewing angles less than 17 degrees. GW190425 had a total system mass of ~3.4 solar masses. This neutron star system is unlike any observed in our Galaxy and suggests that the final remnant directly collapsed to a black hole — ensuring that the elements synthesized must be different than those in AT 2017gfo. I will discuss the emerging diversity in neutron star systems and its implications for r-process enrichment in the context of the next LIGO observing run.

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