Radioactive decay products in neutron star merger ejecta: Heating efficiency and γ-ray emission

K. Hotokezaka, S. Wanajo, M. Tanaka, A. Bamba, Y. Terada, T. Piran

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

71 Citations (Scopus)


The radioactive decay of the freshly synthesized r-process nuclei ejected in compact binary mergers powers optical/infrared macronovae (kilonovae) that follow these events. The light curves depend critically on the energy partition among the different decay products and it plays an important role in estimates of the amount of ejected r-process elements from a given observed signal. We show that 20-50percent of the total radioactive energy is released in γ-rays on time-scales from hours to a month. The number of emitted γ-rays per unit energy interval has roughly a flat spectrum between a few dozen keV and 1MeV so that most of the energy is carried by ~1MeV γ-rays. However, at the peak of macronova emission the optical depth of the γ-rays is ~0.02 and most of the γ-rays escape. The loss of these γ-rays reduces the heat deposition into the ejecta and hence reduces the expected macronova signals if those are lanthanides dominated. This implies that the ejected mass is larger by a factor of 2-3 than what was previously estimated. Spontaneous fission heats up the ejecta and the heating rate can increase if a sufficient amount of transuranic nuclei are synthesized. Direct measurements of these escaping γ-rays may provide the ultimate proof for the macronova mechanisms and an identification of the r-process nucleosynthesis sites. However, the chances to detect these signals are slim with current X-ray and γ-ray missions. New detectors, more sensitive by at least a factor of 10, are needed for a realistic detection rate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-43
Number of pages9
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Jun 11
Externally publishedYes


  • Binaries: close
  • Gamma-ray burst: general
  • Gravitational waves
  • Stars: neutron

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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