Hours-long Near-UV/Optical Emission from Mildly Relativistic Outflows in Black Hole-Neutron Star Mergers

Ore Gottlieb, Danat Issa, Jonatan Jacquemin-Ide, Matthew Liska, Alexander Tchekhovskoy, Francois Foucart, Daniel Kasen, Rosalba Perna, Eliot Quataert, Brian D. Metzger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


The ongoing LIGO-Virgo-KAGRA observing run O4 provides an opportunity to discover new multimessenger events, including binary neutron star (BNS) mergers such as GW170817 and the highly anticipated first detection of a multimessenger black hole-neutron star (BH-NS) merger. While BNS mergers were predicted to exhibit early optical emission from mildly relativistic outflows, it has remained uncertain whether the BH-NS merger ejecta provides the conditions for similar signals to emerge. We present the first modeling of early near-ultraviolet/optical emission from mildly relativistic outflows in BH-NS mergers. Adopting optimal binary properties, a mass ratio of q = 2, and a rapidly rotating BH, we utilize numerical relativity and general relativistic magnetohydrodynamic (GRMHD) simulations to follow the binary’s evolution from premerger to homologous expansion. We use an M1 neutrino transport GRMHD simulation to self-consistently estimate the opacity distribution in the outflows and find a bright near-ultraviolet/optical signal that emerges due to jet-powered cocoon cooling emission, outshining the kilonova emission at early time. The signal peaks at an absolute magnitude of ∼−15 a few hours after the merger, longer than previous estimates, which did not consider the first principles-based jet launching. By late 2024, the Rubin Observatory will have the capability to track the entire signal evolution or detect its peak up to distances of ≳1 Gpc. In 2026, ULTRASAT will conduct all-sky surveys within minutes, detecting some of these events within ∼200 Mpc. The BH-NS mergers with higher mass ratios or lower BH spins would produce shorter and fainter signals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberL11
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 1 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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