Optical follow-up of the neutron star–black hole mergers S200105ae and S200115j

Shreya Anand, Michael W. Coughlin, Mansi M. Kasliwal, Mattia Bulla, Tomás Ahumada, Ana Sagués Carracedo, Mouza Almualla, Igor Andreoni, Robert Stein, Francois Foucart, Leo P. Singer, Jesper Sollerman, Eric C. Bellm, Bryce Bolin, M. D. Caballero-García, Alberto J. Castro-Tirado, S. Bradley Cenko, Kishalay De, Richard G. Dekany, Dmitry A. DuevMichael Feeney, Christoffer Fremling, Daniel A. Goldstein, V. Zach Golkhou, Matthew J. Graham, Nidhal Guessoum, Matthew J. Hankins, Youdong Hu, Albert K.H. Kong, Erik C. Kool, S. R. Kulkarni, Harsh Kumar, Russ R. Laher, Frank J. Masci, Przemek Mróz, Samaya Nissanke, Michael Porter, Simeon Reusch, Reed Riddle, Philippe Rosnet, Ben Rusholme, Eugene Serabyn, R. Sánchez-Ramírez, Mickael Rigault, David L. Shupe, Roger Smith, Maayane T. Soumagnac, Richard Walters, Azamat F. Valeev

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

77 Scopus citations


LIGO and Virgo’s third observing run revealed the first neutron star–black hole (NSBH) merger candidates in gravitational waves. These events are predicted to synthesize r-process elements1,2 creating optical/near-infrared ‘kilonova’ emission. The joint gravitational wave and electromagnetic detection of an NSBH merger could be used to constrain the equation of state of dense nuclear matter3, and independently measure the local expansion rate of the Universe4. Here, we present the optical follow-up and analysis of two of the only three high-significance NSBH merger candidates detected to date, S200105ae and S200115j, with the Zwicky Transient Facility5. The Zwicky Transient Facility observed ~48% of S200105ae and ~22% of S200115j’s localization probabilities, with observations sensitive to kilonovae brighter than −17.5 mag fading at 0.5 mag d−1 in the g- and r-bands; extensive searches and systematic follow-up of candidates did not yield a viable counterpart. We present state-of-the-art kilonova models tailored to NSBH systems that place constraints on the ejecta properties of these NSBH mergers. We show that with observed depths of apparent magnitude ~22 mag, attainable in metre-class, wide-field-of-view survey instruments, strong constraints on ejecta mass are possible, with the potential to rule out low mass ratios, high black hole spins and large neutron star radii.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)46-53
Number of pages8
JournalNature Astronomy
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited.


This work was supported by the GROWTH (Global Relay of Observatories Watching Transients Happen) project funded by the National Science Foundation under PIRE grant no. 1545949. GROWTH is a collaborative project among California Institute of Technology (USA), University of Maryland College Park (USA), University of Wisconsin Milwaukee (USA), Texas Tech University (USA), San Diego State University (USA), University of Washington (USA), Los Alamos National Laboratory (USA), Tokyo Institute of Technology (Japan), National Central University (Taiwan), Indian Institute of Astrophysics (India), Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (India), Weizmann Institute of Science (Israel), The Oskar Klein Centre at Stockholm University (Sweden), Humboldt University (Germany), Liverpool John Moores University (UK) and University of Sydney (Australia). This work was based on observations obtained with the 48-inch Samuel Oschin Telescope and the 60-inch Telescope at the Palomar Observatory as part of the 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 (UW), 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 Caltech Optical Observatories, IPAC, and UW. The work is partly based on the observations made with the Gran Telescopio Canarias (GTC), installed in the Spanish Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos of the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias, in the island of La Palma. The KPED team (M.W.C., R.G.D., D.A.D., M.F., S.R.K., E.S. and R.R.) thanks the National Science Foundation and the National Optical Astronomical Observatory for making the Kitt Peak 2.1-m telescope available. We thank the observatory staff at Kitt Peak for their efforts to assist Robo-AO KP operations. The KPED team thanks the National Science Foundation, the National Optical Astronomical Observatory, the Caltech Space Innovation Council and the Murty family for support in the building and operation of KPED. In addition, they thank the CHIMERA project for use of the Electron Multiplying CCD (EMCCD). SED Machine is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under grant no. 1106171 The ZTF forced-photometry service was funded under the Heising-Simons Foundation grant #12540303 (PI: Graham). M.W.C. acknowledges support from the National Science Foundation with grant no. PHY-2010970. S.A. gratefully acknowledges support from a GROWTH PIRE grant (1545949). Part of this research was carried out at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. E.C.K. acknowledges support from the G.R.E.A.T. research environment and the Wenner-Gren Foundations. F.F. gratefully acknowledges support from NASA through grant 80NSSC18K0565, from the NSF through grant PHY-1806278, and from the DOE through CAREER grant DE-SC0020435.

FundersFunder number
Caltech Space Innovation Council
Murty family for support in the building and operation of KPED
National Science Foundation1440341, PHY-1806278, 1806278, 1106171, 1545949
U.S. Department of EnergyDE-SC0020435
National Aeronautics and Space Administration80NSSC18K0565
Heising-Simons Foundation12540303
Wenner-Gren Stiftelserna


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