Maximizing the probability of detecting an electromagnetic counterpart of gravitational-wave events

Michael Coughlin, Christopher Stubbs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Compact binary coalescences are a promising source of gravitational waves for second-generation interferometric gravitational-wave detectors such as advanced LIGO and advanced Virgo. These are among the most promising sources for joint detection of electromagnetic (EM) and gravitational-wave (GW) emission. To maximize the science performed with these objects, it is essential to undertake a followup observing strategy that maximizes the likelihood of detecting the EM counterpart. We present a follow-up strategy that maximizes the counterpart detection probability, given a fixed investment of telescope time. We show how the prior assumption on the luminosity function of the electro-magnetic counterpart impacts the optimized followup strategy. Our results suggest that if the goal is to detect an EM counterpart from among a succession of GW triggers, the optimal strategy is to perform long integrations in the highest likelihood regions. For certain assumptions about source luminosity and mass distributions, we find that an optimal time investment that is proportional to the 2/3 power of the surface density of the GW location probability on the sky. In the future, this analysis framework will benefit significantly from the 3-dimensional localization probability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)165-178
Number of pages14
JournalExperimental Astronomy
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 1 2016
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
MC is supported by National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program, under NSF grant number DGE 1144152. CWS is grateful to the DOE Office of Science for their support under award DE-SC0007881. The authors would like to thank Professor Stephen Smartt and Professor John Tonry for comments on the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016, Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht.


  • Gravitational waves
  • Telescopes


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