The electromagnetic signals of compact binary mergers

Tsvi Piran*, Ehud Nakar, Stephan Rosswog

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Compact binary mergers are prime sources of gravitational waves (GWs), targeted by current and next generation detectors. The question 'what is the observable electromagnetic (EM) signature of a compact binary merger?' is an intriguing one with crucial consequences to the quest for GWs. We present a large set of numerical simulations that focus on the EM signals that emerge from the dynamically ejected subrelativistic material. These outflows produce on a time-scale of a day macronovae-short-lived infrared (IR) to ultraviolet (UV) signals powered by radioactive decay. Like in regular supernovae the interaction of this outflow with the surrounding matter inevitably leads to a long-lasting remnant. We calculate the expected radio signals of these remnants on time-scales longer than a year, when the subrelativistic ejecta dominate the emission. We discuss their detectability in 1.4 GHz and 150 MHz and compare it with an updated estimate of the detectability of short gamma-ray bursts' orphan afterglows (which are produced by a different component of this outflow). We find that mergers with characteristics similar to those of the Galactic neutron star binary population (similar masses and typical circummerger Galactic disc density of ~1 cm-3) that take place at the detection horizon of advanced GW detectors (300 Mpc) yield 1.4 GHz [150 MHz] signals of ~50 [300] μJy, for several years. The signal on time-scales of weeks is dominated by the mildly and/or ultrarelativistic outflow, which is not accounted for by our simulations, and is expected to be even brighter. Upcoming all sky surveys are expected to detect a few dozen, and possibly more, merger remnants at any given time thereby providing robust lower limits to the mergers rate even before the advanced GW detectors become operational. The macronovae signals from the same distance peak in the IR to UV range at an observed magnitude that may be as bright as 22-23 about 10 h after the merger but dimmer, redder and longer if the opacity is larger.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2121-2136
Number of pages16
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - 11 Apr 2013


  • General
  • General-surveys-gamma-ray burst
  • Gravitational waves-stars
  • Neutron-radio continuum


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