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The HEAD Frontier Seminar Series

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2021: 0416

2020: 063007310828  • 092910301130

The HEAD Fontier Seminars are by Zoom, and all HEAD members are receive e-mail with the Zoom meeting number. If you are not a HEAD member and would like to attend, please contact the HEAD Secretary. HEAD members are encouraged to invite their non-HEAD colleagues. Videos of talks can be viewed on the AAS/HEAD youtube channel.

2021 April 16, 1pm EDT

The Detectability of Kiloparsec Scale Dual AGNs: The Impact of Galactic Structure and Black Hole Orbital Properties

Kunyang Li (Georgia Institute of Technology) Observational searches for dual active galactic nuclei (dAGNs) at kiloparsec separations are crucial for understanding the role of galaxy mergers in the evolution of galaxies. In addition, kpc-scale dAGNs may serve as the parent population of merging massive black hole (MBH) binaries, an important source of gravitational waves. We use a semi-analytical model to describe the orbital evolution of unequal mass MBH pairs under the influence of stellar and gaseous dynamical friction in post-merger galaxies. We quantify how the detectability of approximately 40,000 kpc-scale dAGNs depends on the structure of their host galaxies and the orbital properties of the MBH pair. Our models indicate that kpc-scale dAGNs are most likely to be detected in gas-rich post-merger galaxies with smaller stellar bulges and relatively massive, rapidly rotating gas disks. The detectability is also increased in systems with MBHs of comparable masses following low eccentricity prograde orbits. In contrast, dAGNs with retrograde, low eccentricity orbits are some of the least detectable systems among our models. The dAGNs in models in which the accreting MBHs are allowed to exhibit radiative feedback are characterized by a significantly lower overall detectability. The suppression in detectability is most pronounced in gas-rich merger remnant galaxies, where radiation feedback is more likely to arise. If so, then large, relatively gas poor galaxies may be the best candidates for detecting dAGNs.

Demystifying the Prompt Emission of Gamma Ray Bursts

Tyler Parsotan (Oregon State University) Gamma Ray Bursts (GRBs) are the most powerful explosions in the universe, emitting more energy in a few seconds than our sun will emit in its entire lifetime. As a result, these explosions are excellent laboratories for exploring the interplay between matter and radiation in extreme environments. This interplay is integral to understanding astrophysical jets and the various compact objects that are thought to power GRBs. Recent advances in simulating the initial prompt emission of GRBs attempt to simulate this interplay between the jet properties and the resulting electromagnetic signature; this has resulted in various successes in reproducing observational aspects of GRBs. Here, we present the open source Monte Carlo Radiation Transfer (MCRaT) code. MCRaT propagates and Compton-scatters individual photons that have been injected into the collimated outflow in order to produce mock observed light curves, spectra, and polarization measurements from optical to gamma rays. These light curves and spectra allow us to compare our results to GRB observational data. We find excellent agreement between our mock observed GRBs and real GRB observations in terms of spectra and polarization measurements. Furthermore, we can understand the mock observations in terms of the jet structure and what real observations of GRBs can tell us about their jet structures. There are various improvements that can be made to MCRaT, but this code paves the way to connecting observed GRB radiation to the properties of the GRB jet in a way that was not previously possible.

New Evidence for the 3.5 keV Feature in Clusters is Inconsistent with a Dark Matter Origin

Sunayana Bhargava (University of Sussex) There have been several reports of a detection of an unexplained excess of X-ray emission at 3.5 keV in astrophysical systems. One interpretation of this excess is the decay of sterile neutrino dark matter. The most influential study to date analysed 73 clusters observed by the XMM-Newton satellite. We explore evidence for a 3.5 keV excess in the spectra of 117 redMaPPer galaxy clusters - the largest study of its kind. In our analysis of individual spectra, we identify three systems with an excess of flux at 3.5 keV (one of which might be due to a discrete emission line). We group the remaining 114 clusters into temperature bins to search for an increase in 3.5 keV flux with temperature (a reliable proxy for halo mass) and find no evidence for a positive trend. We conclude that a 3.5 keV flux excess in our sample is not a ubiquitous feature in clusters and therefore unlikely to originate from sterile neutrino dark matter decay.

2020 November 30, Noon EST

Fermi-GBM and LIGO/Virgo Analysis of Gravitational Waves from the First and Second Observing Runs


Corinne Fletcher (Universities Space Research Association)

We present results from offline searches of Fermi Gamma-ray Burst Monitor (GBM) data for transients coincident with the gravitational-wave (GW) events reported in the LIGO/Virgo catalog GWTC-1. We search for temporal coincidences between the GW signals and GBM-triggered gamma-ray bursts (GRBs). We also use the GBM subthreshold searches to find coincident gamma-rays below the onboard triggering threshold. All searches recover GRB 170817A which occurred ~1.7 s after the binary neutron star merger GW170817. Furthermore, we review results from a new search seeking GBM counterparts to LIGO single-interferometer triggers. No significant coincidences are found. Finally, we briefly discuss ongoing efforts and planned updates for future GBM follow-up of GW events.

The relation between black-hole growth and host-galaxy compactness among star-forming galaxies

Qingling Ni (Pennsylvania State University)

Recent studies show that a universal relation between black-hole (BH) growth and stellar mass (M*) or star formation rate (SFR) is an oversimplification of BH-galaxy co-evolution, and that morphological and structural properties of host galaxies must also be considered. Particularly, a possible connection between BH growth and host-galaxy compactness was identified among star-forming (SF) galaxies. Utilizing galaxies in the COSMOS field, we perform systematic partial-correlation analyses to investigate how sample-averaged BH accretion rate (BHAR) depends on host-galaxy compactness among SF galaxies, when controlling for morphology and M* (or SFR). The projected central surface-mass density within 1 kpc, Σ1, is utilized to represent host-galaxy compactness in our study. We find that the BHAR-Σ1 relation is stronger than either the BHAR-M* or BHAR-SFR relation among SF galaxies, and this BHAR-Σ1 relation applies to both bulge-dominated galaxies and galaxies that are not dominated by bulges. This BHAR-Σ1 relation among SF galaxies suggests a link between BH growth and the central gas density of host galaxies on the kpc scale, which may further imply a common origin of the gas in the vicinity of the BH and in the central ~kpc of the galaxy. This BHAR-Σ1 relation can also be interpreted as the relation between BH growth and the central velocity dispersion of host galaxies at a given gas content, indicating the role of the host-galaxy potential well in feeding BHs.

Reverberation and Relativistic reflection in black hole transients with NICER

Jingyi Wang (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

Black hole astrophysics can be regarded as a fundamental tool for us to learn about accretion and ejection physics in the strongest gravity regime in the Universe. With only a few black holes that can be resolved spatically, time domain techniques are very powerful to study the inner region of black holes. In particular, reverberation mapping measures light echoes off the inner accretion disc near the innermost stable circular orbit. I will present some of the highest quality reverberation mapping results of a stellar mass black hole to date, from NICER observations of the 2018 outburst of MAXI J1820+070. For the first time, we measure reverberation lags during the hard-to-soft state transition, and find that during this time, the frequency of the reverberation lag decreases, suggesting a larger emitting region, with a possibility of an expanding corona. We jointly fit the lag-energy spectra with the reverberation model RELTRANS for a range of Fourier frequencies in each epoch, and find an increase in the coronal height, consistent with the qualitative expectation. I will put these results into context, comparing to reverberation in other low mass X-ray binaries, and discuss implications for unanswered questions in black hole astrophysics, including the state transition mechanism, system geometry and coupling between the disk, corona and jet.

2020 October 30, 1:00PM EDT

Imprints of cosmic history in the extragalactic gamma-ray background

Ellis Owen (National Tsing Hua University)

Star-forming galaxies would presumably be environments rich in energetic cosmic rays due to the presence of massive stars and their remnants. Stellar remnants can supply seed particles and generate the shocks (via supernova explosions and other violent events) needed to accelerate the seeds to very high energies. These can interact to deposit energy into their environment, or to drive gamma-ray emission. In this talk, I will outline how the gamma-ray emission from these galaxies contributes to the extragalactic gamma-ray background, and discuss how the spatial signatures that would emerge in the background power spectrum could be used to probe the redshift evolution of star-forming galaxy populations. I will also outline the prospects and limitations for observing these signatures with current and future facilities.

Separating accretion and mergers in the cosmic growth of black holes with X-ray and gravitational wave observations

Fabio Pacucci (Harvard University & SAO

Black holes across a broad range of masses play a key role in the evolution of galaxies. The initial seeds of black holes formed at z ~ 30 and grew over cosmic time by gas accretion and mergers. Using observational data for quasars and theoretical models for the hierarchical assembly of dark matter halos, we study the relative importance of gas accretion and mergers for black hole growth, as a function of redshift (0 < z < 10) and black hole mass (10^3 solar masses < M < 10^10 solar masses). We find that: (i) growth by accretion is dominant in a large fraction of the parameter space, especially at M > 10^8 solar masses and z > 6; (ii) growth by mergers is dominant at M < 10^5 solar masses and z > 5.5, and at M > 10^8 solar masses and z < 2. As the growth channel has direct implications for the black hole spin (with gas accretion leading to higher spin values), we test our model against ~ 20 robust spin measurements available thus far. As expected, the spin tends to decline towards the merger-dominated regime, thereby supporting our model. The next generation of X-ray and gravitational wave observatories (e.g. Lynx, AXIS, Athena and LISA) will map out populations of black holes up to very high redshift (z ~ 20), covering the parameter space investigated here in almost its entirety. Their data will be instrumental to providing a clear picture of how black holes grew across cosmic time.

The Swift/XRT Deep Galactic Plane Survey

Nick Gorgone (The George Washington University)

The Deep Galactic Plane Survey (DGPS) is an ongoing 1.83 Ms effort to establish the transient X-ray source content of the inner Scutum and Norma arms of the Milky Way (10° <|l|< 30°, |b| < 0.5°) in the 0.3-10 keV range. Our goal is to find and classify new sources, such as magnetars, X-ray binaries, and other transients. In this talk I will introduce the survey and discuss the potential nature of some of the brightest sources we have discovered thus far based on their multi-wavelength spectral and temporal characteristics. Thus far, we have identified ~190 sources above 3 sigma in any band, with approximately 40 new and unclassified sources. Our forthcoming source catalog will provide a valuable baseline for future time-domain studies and will be significant for cross matching sources in high-energy catalogs.

2020 September 29, Noon EDT

Runaway Merger Shocks in Cluster Outskirts and their Interaction with Accretion Shocks (video)

Congyao Zhang (University of Chicago)

Mergers of galaxy clusters play an important role in cluster growth. Merger shocks arise naturally in this process, and eventually propagate away from the cluster center and encounter the accretion shocks at large cluster radii. In this talk, I will present the formation and evolution of the “runaway” merger shocks. They are considered as promising candidates for powering radio relics found in many clusters. As shocks propagate in cluster peripheries, they are moving down a steep density gradient which helps them to maintain their strength over a large distance. Observations and simulations show that, beyond R_500, gas density profiles are as steep as 1/r^3, suggesting a “habitable zone” of the runaway shocks. Once the runaway shock eventually overtakes the accretion shock, a long-living shock is formed and constitutes a new boundary of the cluster atmosphere. It has a very high Mach number and could travel up to a few virial radii into the intercluster medium.


Jet–accretion Coupling in Luminous Accreting Neutron Stars in Galactic Globular Clusters (video)

Teresa Panurach (Michigan State University)

It is now established that hard-state accreting neutron stars in low-mass X-ray binaries show outflows — and sometimes jets — in the general manner of accreting black holes. However, the quantitative link between the accretion flow (traced by X-rays) and the outflow/jet (traced by radio emission) is much less well-understood for neutron stars than for black holes. Here we use the deep MAVERIC radio continuum survey of 50 Galactic globular clusters to do a systematic study of the radio and X-ray properties of all the luminous (L_X > 10^34 erg/s) persistent neutron star X-ray binaries in our survey, as well as two other transients also captured in our data. We find that these neutron star X-ray binaries show a much larger range in radio luminosity than previously observed, and some have outflows as luminous as those of black holes. These results show that neutron stars do not evince a single relation between inflow and outflow and that the accretion dynamics are more complex than for black holes.

Magnetic reconnection and hot spot formation in black hole accretion flows (video)

Bart Ripperda (Princeton University / Flatiron Institute)

Hot spots, or plasmoids, forming due to magnetic reconnection in current sheets, are conjectured to power frequent X-ray and near-infrared flares from Sgr A*, the black hole in the center of our Galaxy. It is unclear how, where, and when current sheets form in black-hole accretion disks. We show general-relativistic resistive magnetohydrodynamics simulations to model reconnection and plasmoid formation in a range of accretion flows. Current sheets and plasmoids are ubiquitous features which form regardless of the initial magnetic field in the disk, the magnetization in the quasi-steady-state phase of accretion, and the spin of the black hole. Within 10 Schwarzschild radii from the event horizon, we observe plasmoids forming, after which they can merge, grow to macroscopic scales of the order of a few Schwarzschild radii, and are ultimately advected along the jet's sheath or into the disk. Large plasmoids are energized to relativistic temperatures via reconnection and contribute to the jet's limb-brightening. We find that only hot spots forming in magnetically arrested disks can potentially explain the energetics of Sgr A* flares. The flare period is determined by the reconnection rate, which we find to be between 0.01c and 0.03c in all cases, consistent with studies of reconnection in isolated Harris-type current sheets. We quantify magnetic dissipation and non-ideal electric fields which can efficiently inject non-thermal particles. We show that explicit resistivity allows for converged numerical solutions, such that the electromagnetic energy evolution and dissipation become independent of the grid scale for the extreme resolutions considered here.

2020 August 28, Noon EDT

Recent NuSTAR and XMM Observations of Two New Black Hole X-ray Binaries (video)

Yanjun Xu, Caltech

We present results from NuSTAR and XMM observations of two recently discovered black hole X-ray binaries, MAXI J1631-479 and MAXI J1820+070. Due to the brightness of these Galactic black hole transients, relativistic disk reflection features are clearly detected to low Eddington accretion rates during the outbursts. Multi-epoch observations reveal evolution in the strength and profile of the broad Fe K line at different accretion states. These variations encode direct information about the evolution in the accretion dynamics in the vicinity of black holes. We discuss what we have learned about disk truncation, changes in the coronal geometry, and the role of thermal disk photons in shaping the disk reflection spectrum from X-ray spectral modeling. *

A Double-Peaked Calcium-Rich Transient with Luminous X-ray Emission and Shock-Ionized Spectral Features (video)

Wynn Jacobson-Galan, Northwestern Universtiy

We present multi-wavelength observations of the first Calcium-Rich transient with a luminous X-ray detection. Our panchromatic observations of supernova (SN) 2019ehk begin 10 hours after explosion and continue for ~300 days. Additionally, we present pre-explosion HST + Spitzer + Chandra imaging of the SN explosion site, all of which constrain the parameter space of viable stellar progenitors to either (i) massive stars in the lowest mass bin (~10 Msun) in binaries that lost most of their He envelope or (ii) white dwarfs. At 1.5 days after explosion, we observed "flash-ionized" Hydrogen and Helium emission lines in the SN spectrum; this is the first confident detection of circumstellar material surrounding a Ca-rich SN progenitor. The luminous X-ray emission observed by Swift-XRT is coincident with an optical "flare" at -10 days before peak and is consistent with deep radio non-detections at >30 days post-explosion. The SN has a peak absolute magnitude of -15.1 mag and a rise-time of 13 days. We estimate total nickel and ejecta masses of ~0.03 and ~0.7 Msun, respectively. The SN has a similar spectroscopic and photometric evolution to other typical Ca-rich objects, with a rapid evolution to the optically thin regime illustrated via the presence of [Ca II] near maximum light. We will present modeling of multi-wavelength observations and discuss the preferred progenitor scenario for this object. Finally we discuss the implications of these observations on Ca-rich diversity and how this SN constrains the formation mechanism of these intriguing explosions.

The characteristics of the Galactic center excess measured with 11 years of Fermi-LAT data (video)

Mattia Di Mauro, NASA’s GSFC

The presence of an excess of gamma rays in the data measured by the Fermi Large Area Telescope from the Galactic center region is one of the most intriguing mystery in Astroparticle Physics. This excess, labeled as Galactic center excess (GCE), has been measured with different interstellar emission (IEM) models, source catalogs, data selections and techniques. Despite the claims that appeared in several papers in the last decade, the origin of the GCE is still a mystery. The main difficulty in solving this puzzle is that the uncertainties on the modeling of such a complicated region prevent to measure precisely the characteristics of the GCE. I will present precise measurements for the characteristics of the GCE: the energy spectrum, spatial morphology, position and sphericity. We use 11 years of Fermi-LAT data, state of the art IEM models and the newest 4FGL catalog of sources and new tools implemented recently to minimize the uncertainties due to the modeling of such a complicated region such as the Galactic center.

2020 July 31, Noon EDT

Ongoing Monitoring of the Tidal Disruption Event Swift J1644+57 (video)

Yvette Cendes, Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian

Swift J164449.3+573451 (Sw J1644+57) is a tidal disruption event (TDE) where a star became unbound after getting too close to a supermassive black hole and got torn apart by tidal forces. Sw J1644+57 was the first TDE discovered in 2011, and to date is the only TDE where the launch and subsequent turnoff of a relativistic jet has been observed in detail. In this talk, I will give an overview of almost a decade of Sw 1644+57 observations, from its initial discovery by Swift to its transition to a sub-relativistic phase. I will also provide an update of the TDE from recent Chandra and Very Large Array observations in the X-ray and radio as the shockwave continues to expand and interact with the black hole's circumnuclear environment. Finally, I will explain how Sw J1644+57 fits into the broader picture of TDE studies, and how it will continue to provide a benchmark for these transient phenomena for years to come.

Radio Shapiro Delay-Enabled Measurements of Two Millisecond Pulsar Masses (video)

Thankful Cromartie, University of Virginia

In this talk, we will present the results of two radio Shapiro delay campaigns to measure millisecond pulsar (MSP) masses, and will discuss the complementary nature of radio and X-ray observations of these sources. First, we will briefly discuss our measurement of the most massive neutron star observed to date. J0740+6620 is a ~2.14 ± 0.09 (1-sigma confidence interval) MSP for which we obtained orbital-phase-specific observations with the Green Bank Telescope in order to constrain its mass using the relativistic Shapiro delay. We will then present the results of an additional Shapiro delay-powered endeavor, this time in order to constrain the mass of the bright Gamma-ray MSP J1231—1411. This source is of particular interest to the Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer (NICER) mission. Forthcoming modeling of the source's X-ray lightcurve promises to constrain its mass-to-radius ratio, which could further our understanding of the equation of state. An independent measurement of its mass via the radio Shapiro delay would improve the NICER team's modeling of the MSP, and in turn, the project's potential scientific payoff. We conducted a multi-wavelength analysis of timing data, including a new 22-hour campaign over orbital conjunction using the Green Bank Telescope. Both traditional chi-square minimization fitting and Markov Chain Monte Carlo (MCMC)-based techniques indicate that this source is a low-mass MSP in a highly inclined binary orbit with a low-mass white dwarf. The MCMC trials, which prove the constraining power of our measurement of the white dwarf mass and orbital inclination, are informed by priors based on white dwarf evolutionary models. We also conduct a single-photon MCMC fit to 12 years of Fermi-LAT Gamma-ray data, though the resulting constraints on MSP mass are not as stringent as the (provisional) constraints from radio data.

A Search for Detectable LISA Ultracompact Binaries (video)

Kevin Burdge, California Institute of Technology

We will give an update of ongoing work using the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF) to identify LISA detectable ultracompact binaries by searching for optical periodicty. We will discuss properties of fifteen systems discovered thus far, which include detached double white dwarf systems and AM CVns.

2020 June 30 (Inaugural talks)

A bright millisecond-duration radio burst from a Galactic magnetar (video)

Paul Scholz, University of Toronto 

Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are bright millisecond-duration bursts of radio waves from cosmological distances whose nature is an ongoing mystery in astrophysics. A leading model for FRBs is that they are extragalactic magnetars, young neutron stars whose emission is powered by their extremely strong magnetic fields. However, a challenge to these models has been that FRBs must have radio luminosities many orders of magnitude larger than those seen from known Galactic magnetars. On 2020 April 28, the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) FRB project discovered a bright radio burst from Galactic magnetar SGR 1935+2154 during a known state of X-ray outburst. The radio burst energy of the detected burst is three orders of magnitude higher than any radio emission previously seen from a Galactic magnetar and may overlap with the faintest known extragalactic FRBs. This event thus bridges a large fraction of the radio energy gap between the population of Galactic magnetars and FRBs, strongly supporting that magnetars are the origin of at least some FRBs. In this talk I will present the CHIME/FRB discovery of the radio burst, put it in context with high-energy telescope observations of the source, and discuss the implications of this landmark result.

AGN-driven outflows and formation of dusty cold gas filaments in cool-core clusters (video)

Yu Qiu, Kavli Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics

Galaxy clusters are the most massive collapsed structures in the Universe, with potential wells filled with hot, X-ray-emitting intracluster medium (ICM). Observations, however, show that a substantial number of clusters (the so-called cool-core clusters) also contain large amounts of cold gas in their centres, some of which is in the form of spatially extended filaments spanning scales of tens of kiloparsecs. These findings have raised questions about the origin of the cold gas, as well as its relationship with the central active galactic nucleus (AGN), whose feedback has been established as a ubiquitous feature in such galaxy clusters. Here, we report a radiation-hydrodynamic simulation of AGN feedback in a galaxy cluster, in which cold filaments form from the warm, AGN-driven outflows with temperatures between 10^4 and 10^7‚ÄâK as they rise in the cluster core. Our analysis reveals a new mechanism that, through the combination of radiative cooling and ram pressure, naturally promotes outflows whose cooling times are shorter than their rising times, giving birth to spatially extended cold gas filaments. Our results strongly suggest that the formation of cold gas and AGN feedback in galaxy clusters are inextricably linked and shed light on how AGN feedback couples to the ICM.

New Ultraluminous X-ray Sources Hosted by M87's Globular Clusters (video)

Kristen Dage, Michigan State University

Thanks to the nearly 15,000 globular clusters hosted by M87, we were able to identify 7 ultraluminous X-ray sources (ULXs) with globular cluster (GC) counterparts. This nearly doubles the sample size of these unique X-ray binaries, bringing the total known sample of GC ULXs to 17. ULXs in the old GC environment represent a new population of ULXs, and ones likely to be black holes. Two of these sources show variability in their X-ray luminosity of an order of magnitude over many years, and one of these sources shows intra-observational variability on the scale of hours. While the majority of globular cluster ULXs are predominately best fit by single component models, one of the sources studied in this paper is the second GC ULX to be best fit by a two component model.  We compare this new sample of GC ULXs to the previously studied sample, and compare the X-ray and optical properties counterparts across the samples.