GW170817: Swift UV detection of a blue kilonova, and improving the search in O3

the Swift gravitational wave follow-up group

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Swift's rapid slewing, flexible planning, and multi-wavelength instruments make it the most capable space-based follow-up engine for finding poorly localized sources. During O1 and O2 Swift successfully tiled hundreds of square-degrees of sky in the LVC localization regions, searching for, and identifying, possible X-ray and UV/O transients in the field. Swift made important contributions to the discovery and characterization of the kilonova AT 2017gfo, discovering the UV emission and providing the deepest X-ray upper limits in the first 24 hours after the trigger, strongly constraining the dynamics and geometry of the counterpart. Swift tiled 92% of the galaxy convolved error region down to average X-ray flux sensitivities of 10-12 erg cm-2 s-1, significantly increasing our confidence that AT 2017gfo is indeed the counterpart to GW 170817 and sGRB 170817. However, there remains significant room for improvement of Swift's follow-up in preparation for O3. This will take the form of both revised observation strategy based on detailed analysis of the results from O2, and significant changes to Swift's operational capabilities. These improvements are necessary both for maximizing the likelihood that Swift finds a counterpart, and minimizing the impact that follow-up activities have on other Swift science priorities. We outline areas of improvement to the observing strategy itself for optimal tiling of the LVC localization regions. We also discuss ongoing work on operational upgrades that will decrease latency in our response time, and minimize impact on pre-planned observations, while maintaining spacecraft health and safety.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)53-60
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the International Astronomical Union
Issue numberS338
StatePublished - 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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