MeV gamma rays from fission: a distinct signature of actinide production in neutron star mergers

X. Wang, N. Vassh, T. M. Sprouse, M. Mumpower, R. Vogt, J. Randrup, R. Surman

In Press ApJL 903 1 (2020)

Neutron star mergers (NSMs) are the first verified site of rapid neutron capture ($r$-process) nucleosynthesis, and could emit gamma rays from the radioactive isotopes synthesized in the neutron-rich ejecta. These MeV gamma rays may provide a unique and direct probe of the NSM environment as well insight into the nature of the $r$ process, just as observed gammas from the $^{56}$Ni radioactive decay chain provide a window into supernova nucleosynthesis. In this work, we include the photons from fission processes for the first time in estimates of the MeV gamma-ray signal expected from a NSM event. We consider NSM ejecta compositions with a range of neutron richness and find a dramatic difference in the predicted signal depending on whether or not fissioning nuclei are produced. The difference is most striking at photon energies above $\sim3.5$ MeV and at a relatively late time, several days after the merger event, when the ejecta is optically thin. We estimate that a Galactic NSM could be detectable by a next generation gamma-ray detector such as AMEGO in the MeV range, up to $\sim10^4$ days after the merger, if fissioning nuclei are robustly produced in the event.



r-process gamma-rays observation

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