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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.
Radio emission from astrophysical transients allows us to derive calorimetry of kinetic feedback and detailed imaging in ways that are not possible at other wavelengths, and as such it forms an important part of the multi-messenger follow-ups of these events. The field is burgeoning, with a renaissance of interest in accretion, stellar explosions and jetted supernovæ, alongside newer classes of phenomena such as fast radio bursts and tidal disruption events. The purpose of this workshop was to discuss the infrastructure and techniques for detecting, identifying and probing radio transients, with a particular focus on how best to exploit transient alerts from multi-messenger facilities. We examined the type of transient alerts those facilities will broadcast, and methods for following them up, such as rapid-response triggering and shadowing. In break-out groups, participants chose a science question related to a particular radio transient type or class and discussed whether the planned transient strategies and observing techniques on the Square Kilometre Array will be adequate to address the particular question. The classes they chose included fast radio bursts, supernovæ, cataclysmic variable and unknown transients. Any proposed adaptation or suggestion was relayed to a panel of experts for further discussion. The second part of the workshop concentrated on the application of long baseline interferometry for detecting and measuring radio transients.
The Deeper Wider Faster programme (DWF) is a project that coordinates more than 30 multi-wavelength and multi-messenger facilities worldwide and in space, in order to detect and study fast transients (durations of milliseconds to hours). DWF has four main components: (1) simultaneous observations, where ∼10 major facilities, from radio to gamma-ray, are coordinated to perform short-cadence, deep, wide-field observations of the same field at the same time. Radio telescopes search for fast radio bursts, while optical imagers and high-energy instruments search for transient events whose time-scales are seconds to hours, (2) supercomputer data processing and candidate identification in real time (seconds to minutes), along with human inspection of candidates, also in real time (minutes), using sophisticated visualisation technology, (3) rapid-response (minutes) follow-up spectroscopy and imaging, and conventional ToO observations, and (4) long-term follow up by a global network of 1-m to 4-m telescopes. The principal goals of DWF are to discover and study counterparts to fast radio bursts and gravitational-wave events, as well as transients at all wavelengths that have durations of milliseconds to hours.
The ability to quickly detect transient sources in optical images and trigger multi-wavelength follow up is key for the discovery of fast transients. These include events rare and difficult to detect such as kilonovae, supernova shock breakout, and ‘orphan’ Gamma-ray Burst afterglows. We present the Mary pipeline, a (mostly) automated tool to discover transients during high-cadenced observations with the Dark Energy Camera at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO). The observations are part of the ‘Deeper Wider Faster’ programme, a multi-facility, multi-wavelength programme designed to discover fast transients, including counterparts to Fast Radio Bursts and gravitational waves. Our tests of the Mary pipeline on Dark Energy Camera images return a false positive rate of ~2.2% and a missed fraction of ~3.4% obtained in less than 2 min, which proves the pipeline to be suitable for rapid and high-quality transient searches. The pipeline can be adapted to search for transients in data obtained with imagers other than Dark Energy Camera.
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.
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