The effects of r-process heating on fallback accretion in compact object mergers

B. D. Metzger, A. Arcones, E. Quataert, G. Martínez-Pinedo

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78 Scopus citations


We explore the effects of r-process nucleosynthesis on fallback accretion in neutron star (NS)-NS and black hole-NS mergers, and the resulting implications for short-duration gamma-ray bursts (GRBs). Though dynamically important, the energy released during the r-process is not yet taken into account in merger simulations. We use a nuclear reaction network to calculate the heating (due to β decays and nuclear fission) experienced by material on the marginally bound orbits nominally responsible for late-time fallback. Since matter with longer orbital periods torb experiences lower densities, for longer periods of time, the total r-process heating rises rapidly with torb, such that material with torb≳ 1 s can become completely unbound. Thus, r-process heating fundamentally changes the canonical prediction of an uninterrupted power-law decline in the fallback rate at late times. When the time-scale for r-process to complete is ≳1 s, the heating produces a complete cut-off in fallback accretion after ∼1 s; if robust, this would imply that fallback accretion cannot explain the late-time X-ray flaring observed following some short GRBs. However, for a narrow, but physically plausible, range of parameters, fallback accretion can resume after ∼10 s, despite having been strongly suppressed for ∼1-10 s after the merger. This suggests the intriguing possibility that the gap observed between the prompt and extended emission in short GRBs is a manifestation of r-process heating.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2771-2777
Number of pages7
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number4
StatePublished - Mar 2010
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Gamma-rays: bursts
  • Nuclear reactions, nucleosynthesis, abundances


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