A search for an optical counterpart to the gravitational-wave event GW151226

Stephen J Smartt, K. C. Chambers, K. W. Smith, M. E. Huber, D. R. Young, T. W. Chen, C. Inserra, D. E. Wright, Michael William Coughlin, L. Denneau, Heather Flewelling, A Heinze, Anders Jerkstrand, E. A. Magnier, K Maguire, Bernhard Mueller, A. Rest, A. Sherstyuk, B. Stalder, A. S.B. SchultzC. W. Stubbs, J. Tonry, C. Waters, R. J. Wainscoat, M. Della Valle, M. Dennefeld, G. Dimitriadis, R. E. Firth, M. Fraser, C. Frohmaier, Avishay Gal-Yam, J. Harmanen, E. Kankare, R. Kotak, M. Kromer, I. Mandel, Jesper Sollerman, B. Gibson, N. Primak, M. Willman

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We present a search for an electromagnetic counterpart of the gravitational-wave source GW151226. Using the Pan-STARRS1 telescope we mapped out 290 square degrees in the optical i P1 filter, starting 11.5 hr after the LIGO information release and lasting for an additional 28 days. The first observations started 49.5 hr after the time of the GW151226 detection. We typically reached sensitivity limits of i P1 = 20.3-20.8 and covered 26.5% of the LIGO probability skymap. We supplemented this with ATLAS survey data, reaching 31% of the probability region to shallower depths of m ≃ 19. We found 49 extragalactic transients (that are not obviously active galactic nuclei), including a faint transient in a galaxy at 7 Mpc (a luminous blue variable outburst) plus a rapidly decaying M-dwarf flare. Spectral classification of 20 other transient events showed them all to be supernovae. We found an unusual transient, PS15dpn, with an explosion date temporally coincident with GW151226, that evolved into a type Ibn supernova. The redshift of the transient is secure at z = 0.1747 0.0001 and we find it unlikely to be linked, since the luminosity distance has a negligible probability of being consistent with that of GW151226. In the 290 square degrees surveyed we therefore do not find a likely counterpart. However we show that our survey strategy would be sensitive to NS-NS mergers producing kilonovae at D L ≲ 100 Mpc, which is promising for future LIGO/Virgo searches.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberL40
Number of pages8
JournalThe Astrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 20 Aug 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • gravitational waves
  • supernovae: general
  • surveys

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