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Recent Publications

10 most recent research publications

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ADS (authors="STEEGHS, D")
The ESO public survey VISTA Variables in the Vía Láctea (VVV) surveyed the inner Galactic bulge and the adjacent southern Galactic disk from $2009-2015$. Upon its conclusion, the complementary VVV eXtended (VVVX) survey has expanded both the temporal as well as spatial coverage of the original VVV area, widening it from $562$ to $1700$ sq. deg., as well as providing additional epochs in $JHK_{\rm s}$ filters from $2016-2023$. With the completion of VVVX observations during the first semester of 2023, we present here the observing strategy, a description of data quality and access, and the legacy of VVVX. VVVX took $\sim 2000$ hours, covering about 4% of the sky in the bulge and southern disk. VVVX covered most of the gaps left between the VVV and the VISTA Hemisphere Survey (VHS) areas and extended the VVV time baseline in the obscured regions affected by high extinction and hence hidden from optical observations. VVVX provides a deep $JHK_{\rm s}$ catalogue of $\gtrsim 1.5\times10^9$ point sources, as well as a $K_{\rm s}$ band catalogue of $\sim 10^7$ variable sources. Within the existing VVV area, we produced a $5D$ map of the surveyed region by combining positions, distances, and proper motions of well-understood distance indicators such as red clump stars, RR Lyrae, and Cepheid variables. In March 2023 we successfully finished the VVVX survey observations that started in 2016, an accomplishment for ESO Paranal Observatory upon 4200 hours of observations for VVV+VVVX. The VVV+VVVX catalogues complement those from the Gaia mission at low Galactic latitudes and provide spectroscopic targets for the forthcoming ESO high-multiplex spectrographs MOONS and 4MOST.
Time-domain astrophysics continues to grow rapidly, with the inception of new surveys drastically increasing data volumes. Democratised, distributed approaches to training sets for machine learning classifiers are crucial to make the most of this torrent of discovery -- with citizen science approaches proving effective at meeting these requirements. In this paper, we describe the creation of and the initial results from the $\textit{Kilonova Seekers}$ citizen science project, built to find transient phenomena from the GOTO telescopes in near real-time. $\textit{Kilonova Seekers}$ launched in July 2023 and received over 600,000 classifications from approximately 2,000 volunteers over the course of the LIGO-Virgo-KAGRA O4a observing run. During this time, the project has yielded 20 discoveries, generated a `gold-standard' training set of 17,682 detections for augmenting deep-learned classifiers, and measured the performance and biases of Zooniverse volunteers on real-bogus classification. This project will continue throughout the lifetime of GOTO, pushing candidates at ever-greater cadence, and directly facilitate the next-generation classification algorithms currently in development.
MAXI J1348-630 is a low mass X-ray binary discovered in 2019 during a bright outburst. During this event, the system experienced both hard and soft states following the standard evolution. We present multi-epoch optical and near-infrared spectroscopy obtained with X-shooter at the Very Large Telescope. Our dataset includes spectra taken during the brightest phases of the outburst as well as the decay towards quiescence. We study the evolution of the main emission lines, paying special attention to the presence of features commonly associated with accretion disc winds, such as blueshifted absorptions, broad emission line wings and flat-top profiles. We find broad emission line wings in Hα during the hard-to-soft transition and blueshifted absorption troughs at ∼ ‒ 500 km s‒1 in Hβ, He I-5876, Hα and Paβ during the bright soft-intermediate state. In addition, flat-top profiles are seen throughout the outburst. We interpret these observables as signatures of a cold (i.e., optical-to-infrared) accretion disc wind present in the system. We discuss the properties of the wind and compare them with those seen in other X-ray transients. In particular, the wind velocity that we observe is low when compared to those of other systems, which might be a direct consequence of the relatively low binary inclination, as suggested by several observables. This study strengthens the hypothesis that cold winds are a common feature in low mass X-ray binaries and that they can also be detected in low inclination objects via high-quality optical and infrared spectroscopy.
The mergers of binary compact objects such as neutron stars and black holes are of central interest to several areas of astrophysics, including as the progenitors of gamma-ray bursts (GRBs), sources of high-frequency gravitational waves and likely production sites for heavy element nucleosynthesis via rapid neutron capture (the r-process). These heavy elements include some of great geophysical, biological and cultural importance, such as thorium, iodine and gold. Here we present observations of the exceptionally bright gamma-ray burst GRB 230307A. We show that GRB 230307A belongs to the class of long-duration gamma-ray bursts associated with compact object mergers, and contains a kilonova similar to AT2017gfo, associated with the gravitational-wave merger GW170817. We obtained James Webb Space Telescope mid-infrared (mid-IR) imaging and spectroscopy 29 and 61 days after the burst. The spectroscopy shows an emission line at 2.15 microns which we interpret as tellurium (atomic mass A=130), and a very red source, emitting most of its light in the mid-IR due to the production of lanthanides. These observations demonstrate that nucleosynthesis in GRBs can create r-process elements across a broad atomic mass range and play a central role in heavy element nucleosynthesis across the Universe.
High-resolution Doppler spectroscopy provides an avenue to study the atmosphere of both transiting and non-transiting planets. This powerful method has also yielded some of the most robust atmospheric detections to date. Currently, high-resolution Doppler spectroscopy detects atmospheric signals by cross-correlating observed data with a model atmospheric spectrum. This technique has been successful in detecting various molecules such as H2O, CO, HCN and TiO, as well as several atomic species. Here we present an alternative method of performing high-resolution Doppler spectroscopy, using a technique known as Doppler tomography. We present an analysis of HD 179949 b using Doppler tomography and provide Doppler tomograms confirming previous detections of CO at 2.3 microns, and H2O at both 2.3 microns, and 3.5 microns within the atmosphere of HD 179949 b, showing significantly lower background noise levels when compared to cross-correlation methods applied to the same data. We also present a novel detection of H2O at 2.1 microns, as well as a tentative detection of CO on the night side of the planet at 2.3 microns. This represents the first observational evidence for molecular absorption in the night-side emission spectrum of an exoplanet using Doppler spectroscopy.