An archival search for neutron-star mergers in gravitational waves and very-high-energy gamma rays

Columbia Experimental Gravity Group (GECo), VERITAS collaboration

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The recent discovery of electromagnetic signals in coincidence with neutron-star mergers has solidified the importance of multimessenger campaigns in studying the most energetic astrophysical events. Pioneering multimessenger observatories, such as LIGO/Virgo and IceCube, record many candidate signals below the detection significance threshold. These sub-threshold event candidates are promising targets for multimessenger studies, as the information provided by them may, when combined with contemporaneous gamma-ray observations, lead to significant detections. Here we describe a new method that uses such candidates to search for transient events using archival very-high-energy gamma-ray data from imaging atmospheric Cherenkov telescopes (IACTs). We demonstrate the application of this method to sub-threshold binary neutron star (BNS) merger candidates identified in Advanced LIGO’s first observing run. We identify eight hours of archival VERITAS observations coincident with seven BNS merger candidates and search them for TeV emission. No gamma-ray emission is detected; we calculate upper limits on the integral flux and compare them to a short gamma-ray burst model. We anticipate this search method to serve as a starting point for IACT searches with future LIGO/Virgo data releases as well as in other sub-threshold studies for multimessenger transients, such as IceCube neutrinos. Furthermore, it can be deployed immediately with other current-generation IACTs, and has the potential for real-time use that places a minimal burden on experimental operations. Lastly, this method may serve as a pilot for studies with the Cherenkov Telescope Array, which has the potential to observe even larger fields of view in its divergent pointing mode.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number66
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Sep 10 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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