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10 most recent research publications

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ADS (authors="STEEGHS, D")
AM CVn binaries are a class of ultracompact, hydrogen-deficient binaries, each consisting of a white dwarf accreting helium-dominated material from a degenerate or semi-degenerate donor star. Of the 56 known systems, only Gaia14aae undergoes complete eclipses of its central white dwarf, allowing the parameters of its stellar components to be tightly constrained. Here, we present phase-resolved optical spectroscopy of Gaia14aae. We use the spectra to test the assumption that the narrow emission feature known as the `central spike' traces the motion of the central white dwarf. We measure a central spike velocity amplitude of 13.8 ± 3.2 km/s, which agrees at the 1 σ level with the predicted value of 17.6 ± 1.0 km/s based on eclipse-derived system parameters. The orbital phase offset of the central spike from its expected position is 4 ± 15 °, consistent with 0 °. Doppler maps of the He I lines in Gaia14aae show two accretion disc bright spots, as seen in many AM CVn systems. The formation mechanism for the second spot remains unclear. We detect no hydrogen in the system, but we estimate a 3 σ limit on Hα emission with an equivalent width of -1.14 Å. Our detection of nitrogen and oxygen with no corresponding detection of carbon, in conjunction with evidence from recent studies, mildly favours a formation channel in which Gaia14aae is descended from a cataclysmic variable with a significantly evolved donor.
We present near-infrared and optical imaging of 15 candidate black hole X-ray binaries. In addition to quiescent observations for all sources, we also observed two of these sources (IGR J17451-3022 and XTE J1818-245) in outburst. We detect the quiescent counterpart for 12 out of 15 sources, and for the remaining 3, we report limiting magnitudes. The magnitudes of the detected counterparts range between Ks = 17.59 and Ks = 22.29 mag. We provide (limits on) the absolute magnitudes and finding charts of all sources. Of these 12 detections in quiescence, 7 detections represent the first quiescent reported values (for MAXI J1543-564, XTE J1726-476, IGR J17451-3022, XTE J1818-245, MAXI J1828-249, MAXI J1836-194, Swift J1910.2-0546), and 2 detections show fainter counterparts to XTE J1752-223 and XTE J2012+381 than previously reported. We used theoretical arguments and observed trends, for instance between the outburst and quiescent X-ray luminosity and orbital period Porb to derive an expected trend between ΔKs and Porb of Δ K_s ∝ log P_orb^{0.565}. Comparing this to observations, we find a different behaviour. We discuss possible explanations for this result.
Long gamma-ray bursts mark the death of massive stars, as revealed by their association with energetic broad-lined stripped-envelope supernovae. The scarcity of nearby events and the brightness of the GRB afterglow, dominating the first days of emission, have so far prevented the study of the very early stages of the GRB-SN evolution. Here we present detailed, multi-epoch spectroscopic observations of SN 2017iuk, associated with GRB 171205A which display features at extremely high expansion velocities of $\sim$ 100,000 km s$^{-1}$ within the first day after the burst. These high-velocity components are characterized by chemical abundances different from those observed in the ejecta of SN 2017iuk at later times. Using spectral synthesis models developed for the SN 2017iuk, we explain these early features as originating not from the supernova ejecta, but from a hot cocoon generated by the energy injection of a mildly-relativistic GRB jet expanding into the medium surrounding the progenitor star. This cocoon becomes rapidly transparent and is outshone by the supernova emission which starts dominating three days after the burst. These results proves that the jet plays an important role not only in powering the GRB event but also its associated supernova.
We present observations of the optical afterglow of GRB 170817A, made by the Hubble Space Telescope, between 2018 February and August, up to one year after the neutron star merger GW170817. The afterglow shows a rapid decline beyond 170 days, and confirms the jet origin for the observed outflow, in contrast to more slowly declining expectations for "failed-jet" scenarios. We show here that the broadband (radio, optical, X-ray) afterglow is consistent with a structured outflow where an ultra-relativistic jet, with a Lorentz factor of Γ ≳ 100, forms a narrow core (∼5°) and is surrounded by a wider angular component that extends to ∼15°, which is itself relativistic (Γ ≳ 5). For a two-component model of this structure, the late-time optical decline, where F ∝ t ‑α , is α = 2.20 ± 0.18, and for a Gaussian structure the decline is α = 2.45 ± 0.23. We find the Gaussian model to be consistent with both the early ∼10 days and late ≳290 days data. The agreement of the optical light curve with the evolution of the broadband spectral energy distribution, and its continued decline, indicates that the optical flux is arising primarily from the afterglow and not any underlying host system. This provides the deepest limits on any host stellar cluster with a luminosity ≲4000 L (M F606W ≳ ‑4.3).
The discovery of the electromagnetic counterparts to the binary neutron star merger GW170817 has opened the era of GW+EM multi-messenger astronomy. Exploiting this breakthrough requires increasing samples to explore the diversity of kilonova behaviour and provide more stringent constraints on the Hubble constant, and tests of fundamental physics. LSST can play a key role in this field in the 2020s, when the gravitational wave detector network is expected to detect higher rates of merger events involving neutron stars ($\sim$10s per year) out to distances of several hundred Mpc. Here we propose comprehensive target-of-opportunity (ToOs) strategies for follow-up of gravitational-wave sources that will make LSST the premiere machine for discovery and early characterization for neutron star mergers and other gravitational-wave sources.