Exciting news from KilonovaCatcher/GRANDMA (and the Palomar ZTF survey)

American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO)
Sun, 05/30/2021 - 20:26

The KilonovaCatcher project aims to enlist amateur astronomers side by side with the professionals of the GRANDMA collaboration, in the quest to detect the optical counterpart of the merger of two neutron stars, called a kilonova. If the merger event happens sufficiently close to our own galaxy, it can be detected with gravitational wave detectors, but the sky localization will be rather poor. So the GW detectors will only give us a region in the sky where we should look for the kilonova, not exact coordinates.

And that’s where the amateurs enter the picture. When the first (and so far only) confidently detected kilonova signal reached Earth in August 2017, the alert went out only to professional astronomers, and it took them until sunset in Chile, more than 11 hours after the alert, to find the optical counterpart. A great number of amateurs could help find the next event somewhat earlier during the rise of the kilonova.

The most capable gravitational wave detectors are currently undergoing upgrades and will not resume observations before summer 2022. So the next 12 months will be used by KilonovaCatcher to train volunteers in the art of kilonova-hunting.

Of course nature isn’t waiting producing kilonovae until the GW detectors are ready again, and the KilonovaCatcher project has found a way to practice that might actually find a kilonova even without GW triggers!!

It is all explained in this video:


In short, KilonovaCatcher will use the ongoing sky survey by the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) telescope located in California to identify kilonova candidates. Every weekend during the training period, kilonova candidates will be communicated to volunteers so they can make follow-up observations and upload them for analysis to KilonovaCatcher.

I think this points to an important aspect of the future of professional-amateur-collaboration in optical astronomy: With the help of wide field telescopes like ZTF and (soon) the Vera Rubin telescope (formerly known as LSST), there will be an abundance of interesting transients that need follow-up observations, more than the professional astronomers will be able to handle alone.

What do you think? Please discuss your thoughts about the KilonovaCatcher practice run in this thread.