Neutron star mergers and the cosmic origin of the heavy elements

The recent detection of the binary neutron star merger GW170817 by LIGO and Virgo was followed by a firework of electromagnetic counterparts across the entire electromagnetic spectrum. In particular, the ultraviolet, optical, and near-infrared emission is consistent with a kilonova that provided strong evidence for the formation of heavy elements in the merger ejecta by the rapid neutron capture process (r-process). In this talk, I will discuss the state of the art in modeling neutron star mergers from first principles, which represents a multi-physics challenge involving all four fundamental forces and petascale computing. I will present recent results from general-relativistic magnetohydrodynamic simulations and discuss possible scenarios and mass ejection mechanisms that can give rise to the observed kilonova features. In particular, I will argue that massive winds from neutrino-cooled post-merger accretion disks most likely synthesized the heavy r-process elements in GW170817. I will show how this finding (at least partially) concludes the quest for the cosmic origin of the heavy elements, which has been an enduring mystery for more than 70 years.

Collection/Series: 
Event Type: 
Seminar
Scientific Area(s): 
Speaker(s): 
Event Date: 
Jeudi, Février 15, 2018 - 13:30 to 15:00
Location: 
Space Room
Room #: 
400