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Recent Publications

10 most recent research publications

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ADS (authors="STEEGHS, D")
Molecular species, most frequently H2, are present in a small, but growing, number of gamma-ray burst (GRB) afterglow spectra at redshifts z ˜ 2-3, detected through their rest-frame UV absorption lines. In rare cases, lines of vibrationally excited states of H2 can be detected in the same spectra. The connection between afterglow line-of-sight absorption properties of molecular (and atomic) gas, and the observed behaviour in emission of similar sources at low redshift, is an important test of the suitability of GRB afterglows as general probes of conditions in star formation regions at high redshift. Recently, emission lines of carbon monoxide have been detected in a small sample of GRB host galaxies, at sub-mm wavelengths, but no searches for H2 in emission have been reported yet. In this paper we perform an exploratory search for rest-frame K band rotation-vibrational transitions of H2 in emission, observable only in the lowest redshift GRB hosts (z ≲ 0.22). Searching the data of four host galaxies, we detect a single significant rotation-vibrational H2 line candidate, in the host of GRB 031203. Re-analysis of Spitzer mid-infrared spectra of the same GRB host gives a single low significance rotational line candidate. The (limits on) line flux ratios are consistent with those of blue compact dwarf galaxies in the literature. New instrumentation, in particular on the JWST and the ELT, can facilitate a major increase in our understanding of the H2 properties of nearby GRB hosts, and the relation to H2 absorption in GRBs at higher redshift.
Asteroid (3200) Phaethon is a Near-Earth Apollo asteroid with an unusual orbit that brings it closer to the Sun than any other known asteroid. Its last close approach to the Earth was in 2017 mid-December and the next one will be on 2026 October. Previous rotationally time-resolved spectroscopy of Phaethon showed that its spectral slope is slightly bluish, in agreement with its B/F taxonomic classification, but at some rotational phases, it changes to slightly reddish. Motivated by this result, we performed time-resolved imaging polarimetry of Phaethon during its recent close approach to the Earth. Phaethon has a spin period of 3.604 h, and we found a variation of the linear polarization with rotation. This seems to be a rare case in which such variation is unambiguously found, also a consequence of its fairly large amplitude. Combining this new information with the brightness and colour variation as well as previously reported results from Arecibo radar observations, we conclude that there is no variation of the mineralogy across the surface of Phaeton. However, the observed change in the linear polarization may be related to differences in the thickness of the surface regolith in different areas or local topographic features.
Ultracompact binaries with orbital periods less than a few hours will dominate the gravitational wave signal in the mHz regime. Until recently, 10 systems were expected to have a predicted gravitational wave signal strong enough to be detectable by the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA), the so-called `verification binaries'. System parameters, including distances, are needed to provide an accurate prediction of the expected gravitational wave strength to be measured by LISA. Using parallaxes from Gaia Data Release 2 we calculate signal-to-noise ratios (SNR) for ≈50 verification binary candidates. We find that 11 binaries reach an SNR ≥ 20, two further binaries reaching an SNR≥ 5, and three more systems are expected to have a SNR≈ 5 after 4 yr integration with LISA. For these 16 systems, we present predictions of the gravitational wave amplitude (A) and parameter uncertainties from Fisher information matrix on the amplitude (A) and inclination (ι).
The black-hole binary, V404 Cyg, went into outburst in June 2015, after 26 years of X-ray quiescence. We observed the outburst with the Neil Gehrels Swift observatory. We present the optical/UV observations taken with the Swift Ultra-Violet Optical Telescope, and compare them with the X-ray observations obtained with the Swift X-ray telescope. We find that dust extinction, affecting the optical/UV, does not correlate with absorption due to neutral hydrogen, which affects the X-ray emission. We suggest that there is a small inhomogeneous high density absorber, containing a negligible amount of dust, close to the black hole. Overall, temporal variations in the optical/UV emission trace those in the X-ray band, with a time-lag of (0 - 30)s, with the optical/UV generally lagging the X-rays. The amplitude of the variations is correlated with flux in both bands, but less significantly in the optical/UV. The variability in the light curves may be produced by a complex combination of processes. Some of the variability observed only in the X-ray may be due to the presence of a local, inhomogeneous and dust-free absorber. While variability visible in both the X-ray and optical/UV bands may instead be driven by the accretion flow: the X-rays are produced in the inner accretion disc, some of which are reprocessed to the optical/UV; and/or the X-ray and optical/UV emission is produced within the jet.
Neutron stars (NSs) in low-mass X-ray binaries are considered promising candidate sources of continuous gravitational waves. These NSs are typically rotating many hundreds of times a second. The process of accretion can potentially generate and support non-axisymmetric distortions to the compact object, resulting in persistent emission of gravitational waves. We present a study of existing optical spectroscopic data for Sco X-1, a prime target for continuous gravitational-wave searches, with the aim of providing revised constraints on key orbital parameters required for a directed search with advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory data. From a circular orbit fit to an improved radial velocity curve of the Bowen emission components, we derived an updated orbital period and ephemeris. Centre of symmetry measurements from the Bowen Doppler tomogram yield a centre of the disc component of 90 km s-1, which we interpret as a revised upper limit to the projected orbital velocity of the NS K1. By implementing Monte Carlo binary parameter calculations, and imposing new limits on K1 and the rotational broadening, we obtained a complete set of dynamical system parameter constraints including a new range for K1 of 40-90 km s-1. Finally, we discussed the implications of the updated orbital parameters for future continuous-wave searches.