Multi-messenger astronomy

Multi-messenger astronomy combines electromagnetic, gravitational wave, and other signals travelling at or very close to the "speed of light", to learn about our cosmos. This field received a huge impetus when electromagnetic radiation (GRB170817A, AT2017gfo) and gravitational waves (GW170817) were detected from a binary neutron star merger. Numerous Birmingham contributions to this discovery included some from our current Extragalactic members.

A simulation of a neutron star mergerCredits: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/CI Lab

Our team

Academics: Dr Ben GompertzProfessor Graham Smith
Fellows: Dr Matteo Bianconi, Dr Dan Ryczanowski
Students: Andres Ponte Perez, Evan Ridley, Isabelle Worssam

Multi-messenger astronomy at Birmingham

We lead research on multi-messenger detections of explosive and other transient phenomena in the distant universe, including the explosive death of stars as supernovae, the mergers of binary compact objects, the tidal disruption of stars by massive black holes, and variable emission from active galactic nuclei. Our expertise concentrates on electromagnetic signals including gamma-rays and optical/infrared photons, and is complemented by gravitational lensing, gravitational wave, and cosmology expertise within our group and our wide network of international collaborators.

We follow up gravitational wave signals from merging neutron star binaries (NS-NS), neutron star - black hole binaries (NS-BH), and binaries that appear to be intermediate in mass between neutron stars and black holes (MassGap). These mergers launch relativistic jets of material that we can detect as short gamma-ray bursts, and synthesise very massive elements whose radioactive 'glow' we can detect as kilonovae. Exploring these electromagnetic counterparts reveals how matter behaves at the limits of neutron degeneracy pressure, and the origins of some of the heaviest elements in the periodic table. Discovery of electromagnetic counterparts to MassGap detections will extend these probes to the distant universe, as they may be gravitationally lensed.

Our follow-up of gravitational wave signals from NS-NS and NS-BH mergers are part of the global effort to make the next multi-messenger detection of a binary compact object merger. This includes leading roles in the Gravitational-wave Optical Transient Observer (GOTO) collaboration, as members of the ENGRAVE consortium, and with our optical and X-ray telescope programmes. Our follow-up of MassGap events aims to make the first multi-messenger discovery of a gravitationally lensed binary compact object merger. We currently use DECam, and are looking forward to using the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in the future. This discovery will enable many new experiments, including novel tests of General Relativity, probes of the early rising portion of kilonova lightcurves, and a new independent tool for measuring the Hubble constant.