Spectroscopic identification of r-process nucleosynthesis in a double neutron star merger
journal contributionposted on 01.05.2018, 13:30 by E. Pian, P. D'Avanzo, S. Benetti, M. Branchesi, E. Brocato, S. Campana, E. Cappellaro, S. Covino, V. D'Elia, J. P. U. Fynbo, F. Getman, G. Ghirlanda, G. Ghisellini, A. Grado, G. Greco, J. Hjorth, C. Kouveliotou, A. Levan, L. Limatola, D. Malesani, P. A. Mazzali, A. Melandri, P. Moller, L. Nicastro, E. Palazzi, S. Piranomonte, A. Rossi, O. S. Salafia, J. Selsing, G. Stratta, M. Tanaka, N. R. Tanvir, L. Tomasella, D. Watson, S. Yang, L. Amati, L. A. Antonelli, S. Ascenzi, M. G. Bernardini, M. Boer, F. Bufano, A. Bulgarelli, M. Capaccioli, P. G. Casella, A. J. Castro-Tirado, E. Chassande-Mottin, R. Ciolfi, C. M. Copperwheat, M. Dadina, G. D. Cesare, A. D. Paola, Y. Z. Fan, B. Gendre, G. Giuffrida, A. Giunta, L. K. Hunt, G. Israel, Z.-P. Jin, M. Kasliwal, S. Klose, M. Lisi, F. Longo, E. Maiorano, M. Mapelli, N. Masetti, L. Nava, B. Patricelli, D. Perley, A. Pescalli, T. Piran, A. Possenti, L. Pulone, M. Razzano, R. Salvaterra, P. Schipani, M. Spera, A. Stamerra, L. Stella, G. Tagliaferri, V. Testa, E. Troja, M. Turatto, S. D. Vergani, D. Vergani
The merger of two neutron stars is predicted to give rise to three major detectable phenomena: a short burst of gamma-rays, a gravitational wave signal, and a transient optical/near-infrared source powered by the synthesis of large amounts of very heavy elements via rapid neutron capture (the r-process). Such transients, named "macronovae" or "kilonovae", are believed to be centres of production of rare elements such as gold and platinum. The most compelling evidence so far for a kilonova was a very faint near-infrared rebrightening in the afterglow of a short gamma-ray burst at z = 0.356, although findings indicating bluer events have been reported. Here we report the spectral identification and describe the physical properties of a bright kilonova associated with the gravitational wave source GW 170817 and gamma-ray burst GRB 170817A associated with a galaxy at a distance of 40 Mpc from Earth. Using a series of spectra from ground-based observatories covering the wavelength range from the ultraviolet to the near-infrared, we find that the kilonova is characterized by rapidly expanding ejecta with spectral features similar to those predicted by current models. The ejecta is optically thick early on, with a velocity of about 0.2 times light speed, and reaches a radius of about 50 astronomical units in only 1.5 days. As the ejecta expands, broad absorption-like lines appear on the spectral continuum indicating atomic species produced by nucleosynthesis that occurs in the post-merger fast-moving dynamical ejecta and in two slower (0.05 times light speed) wind regions. Comparison with spectral models suggests that the merger ejected 0.03-0.05 solar masses of material, including high-opacity lanthanides.