Imprints of r-process heating on fall-back accretion: distinguishing black hole–neutron star from double neutron star mergers

Academic Article


  • Mergers of compact binaries containing two neutron stars (NS-NS), or a neutron star and a stellar-mass black hole (NS-BH), are likely progenitors of short-duration gamma ray bursts (SGRBs). A fraction >20% of SGRBs are followed by temporally-extended (>~ minute-long), variable X-ray emission, attributed to ongoing activity of the central engine. One source of late-time engine activity is fall-back accretion of bound tidal ejecta; however, observed extended emission light curves do not track the naively-anticipated, uninterrupted ~t^{-5/3} power-law decay, instead showing a lull or gap in emission typically lasting tens of seconds after the burst. Here, we re-examine the impact of heating due to rapid neutron capture (r-process) nucleosynthesis on rate of the fall-back accretion, using ejecta properties obtained from numerical relativity simulations of NS-BH mergers in a toy model for the dynamical influence of nuclear heating. Depending on the mass of the remnant black hole, r-process heating can imprint a variety of fall-back curve shapes, ranging from temporal lulls of up to tens of seconds to complete late-time cut-off in the fall-back rate. This behavior is robust to realistic variations in the nuclear heating experienced by different parts of the ejecta. Central black holes with masses <~ 3 Msun typically experience absolute cut-offs in the fall-back rate, while more massive >6-8 Msun black holes instead show temporal gaps. We thus propose that SGRBs with extended emission arise from NS-BH, rather than NS-NS, mergers. Our model implies a NS-BH merger detection rate by LIGO which, in steady-state, is comparable to or greater than that of NS-NS mergers.
  • Authors

  • Desai, D
  • Metzger, BD
  • Foucart, Francois
  • Status

    Publication Date

  • May 21, 2019
  • Has Subject Area


  • astro-ph.HE
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Start Page

  • 4404
  • End Page

  • 4412
  • Volume

  • 485
  • Issue

  • 3