Sometimes what Glitters is Gold: The Detection of an Optical Counterpart to a Neutron Star-Neutron Star Merger

Dr. Maria Drout (Carnegie Observatories)
Tuesday, October 24, 2017 - 4:00pm
On 2017 Aug 17 12:41:04 UTC Advanced LIGO and Advanced Virgo observed gravitational waves from the coalescence of a neutron star binary with a false alarm probability of 1 per 10000 years. 1.7 seconds later, Fermi detected a short duration gamma-ray burst from the same region of the sky.  Less than 11 hours post-merger, scientists at Carnegie Observatories and UC Santa Cruz discovered the optical counterpart of the merger using the Swope telescope at Las Campanas, ushering in the era of multi-messenger gravitational-wave astronomy. In this talk I will give a broad review the motivation and goals for programs seeking to identify electromagnetic counterparts to gravitational wave sources, overview the wealth of observations obtained for GW170817/SSS17a---highlighting the significant contributions of the observers and staff at Carnegie Observatories---and discuss the scientific implications of this event on topics ranging from the progenitors of short duration gamma-ray bursts, the origin of r-process elements, and the expansion of the universe.