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The discovery of the first electromagnetic counterpart to a gravitational wave signal has generated follow-up observations by over 50 facilities world-wide, ushering in the new era of multi-messenger astronomy. In this paper, we present follow-up observations of the gravitational wave event GW170817 and its electromagnetic counterpart SSS17a/DLT17ck (IAU label AT2017gfo) by 14 Australian telescopes and partner observatories as part of Australian-based and Australian-led research programs. We report early- to late-time multi-wavelength observations, including optical imaging and spectroscopy, mid-infrared imaging, radio imaging, and searches for fast radio bursts. Our optical spectra reveal that the transient source emission cooled from approximately 6 400 K to 2 100 K over a 7-d period and produced no significant optical emission lines. The spectral profiles, cooling rate, and photometric light curves are consistent with the expected outburst and subsequent processes of a binary neutron star merger. Star formation in the host galaxy probably ceased at least a Gyr ago, although there is evidence for a galaxy merger. Binary pulsars with short (100 Myr) decay times are therefore unlikely progenitors, but pulsars like PSR B1534+12 with its 2.7 Gyr coalescence time could produce such a merger. The displacement (~2.2 kpc) of the binary star system from the centre of the main galaxy is not unusual for stars in the host galaxy or stars originating in the merging galaxy, and therefore any constraints on the kick velocity imparted to the progenitor are poor.
The Zadko telescope is a 1 m f/4 Cassegrain telescope, situated in the state of Western Australia about 80-km north of Perth. The facility plays a niche role in Australian astronomy, as it is the only meter class facility in Australia dedicated to automated follow-up imaging of alerts or triggers received from different external instruments/detectors spanning the entire electromagnetic spectrum. Furthermore, the location of the facility at a longitude not covered by other meter class facilities provides an important resource for time critical projects. This paper reviews the status of the Zadko facility and science projects since it began robotic operations in March 2010. We report on major upgrades to the infrastructure and equipment (2012–2014) that has resulted in significantly improved robotic operations. Second, we review the core science projects, which include automated rapid follow-up of gamma ray burst (GRB) optical afterglows, imaging of neutrino counterpart candidates from the ANTARES neutrino observatory, photometry of rare (Barbarian) asteroids, supernovae searches in nearby galaxies. Finally, we discuss participation in newly commencing international projects, including the optical follow-up of gravitational wave (GW) candidates from the United States and European GW observatory network and present first tests for very low latency follow-up of fast radio bursts. In the context of these projects, we outline plans for a future upgrade that will optimise the facility for alert triggered imaging from the radio, optical, high-energy, neutrino, and GW bands.
Wepresent and evaluate several strategies to search for prompt, low-frequency radio emission associated with gravitational wave transients using the Murchison Widefield Array. As we are able to repoint the Murchison Widefield Array on timescales of tens of seconds, we can search for the dispersed radio signal that has been predicted to originate along with or shortly after a neutron star-neutron star merger. We find that given the large, 600 deg2 instantaneous field of view of the Murchison Widefield Array, we can cover a significant fraction of the predicted gravitational wave error region, although due to the complicated geometry of the latter, we only cover > 50% of the error region for approximately 5% of events, and roughly 15% of events will be located < 10° from the Murchison Widefield Array pointing centre such that they will be covered in the radio images. For optimal conditions, our limiting flux density for a 10-s long transient would be 0.1 Jy, increasing to about 1 Jy for a wider range of events. This corresponds to luminosity limits of 1038−39 erg s−1 based on expectations for the distances of the gravitational wave transients, which should be sufficient to detect or significantly constrain a range of models for prompt emission.
Making use of a new N-body model to describe the evolution of a moderate-size globular cluster, we investigate the characteristics of the population of black holes within such a cluster. This model reaches core-collapse and achieves a peak central density typical of the dense globular clusters of the Milky Way. Within this high-density environment, we see direct confirmation of the merging of two stellar remnant black holes in a dynamically formed binary, a gravitational wave source. We describe how the formation, evolution, and ultimate ejection/destruction of binary systems containing black holes impacts the evolution of the cluster core. Also, through comparison with previous models of lower density, we show that the period distribution of black hole binaries formed through dynamical interactions in this high-density model favours the production of gravitational wave sources. We confirm that the number of black holes remaining in a star cluster at late times and the characteristics of the binary black hole population depend on the nature of the star cluster, critically on the number density of stars and by extension the relaxation timescale.
The first observations by a worldwide network of advanced interferometric gravitational wave detectors offer a unique opportunity for the astronomical community. At design sensitivity, these facilities will be able to detect coalescing binary neutron stars to distances approaching 400 Mpc, and neutron star–black hole systems to 1 Gpc. Both of these sources are associated with gamma-ray bursts which are known to emit across the entire electromagnetic spectrum. Gravitational wave detections provide the opportunity for ‘multi-messenger’ observations, combining gravitational wave with electromagnetic, cosmic ray, or neutrino observations. This review provides an overview of how Australian astronomical facilities and collaborations with the gravitational wave community can contribute to this new era of discovery, via contemporaneous follow-up observations from the radio to the optical and high energy. We discuss some of the frontier discoveries that will be made possible when this new window to the Universe is opened.
Neutron stars are excellent emitters of gravitational waves. Squeezing matter beyond nuclear densities invites exotic physical processes, many of which violently transfer large amounts of mass at relativistic velocities, disrupting spacetime and generating copious quantities of gravitational radiation. I review mechanisms for generating gravitational waves with neutron stars. This includes gravitational waves from radio and millisecond pulsars, magnetars, accreting systems, and newly born neutron stars, with mechanisms including magnetic and thermoelastic deformations, various stellar oscillation modes, and core superfluid turbulence. I also focus on what physics can be learnt from a gravitational wave detection, and where additional research is required to fully understand the dominant physical processes at play.