Optimizing serendipitous detections of kilonovae: Cadence and filter selection

Mouza Almualla, Shreya Anand, Michael W. Coughlin, Tim DIetrich, Nidhal Guessoum, Ana Sagués Carracedo, Tomás Ahumada, Igor Andreoni, Sarah Antier, Eric C. Bellm, Mattia Bulla, Leo P. Singer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


The rise of multimessenger astronomy has brought with it the need to exploit all available data streams and learn more about the astrophysical objects that fall within its breadth. One possible avenue is the search for serendipitous optical/near-infrared counterparts of gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) and gravitational-wave (GW) signals, known as kilonovae. With surveys such as the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF), which observes the sky with a cadence of ∼3 d, the existing counterpart locations are likely to be observed; however, due to the significant amount of sky to explore, it is difficult to search for these fast-evolving candidates. Thus, it is beneficial to optimize the survey cadence for realtime kilonova identification and enable further photometric and spectroscopic observations. We explore how the cadence of wide field-of-view surveys like ZTF can be improved to facilitate such identifications. We show that with improved observational choices, e.g. the adoption of three epochs per night on a ∼nightly basis, and the prioritization of redder photometric bands, detection efficiencies improve by about a factor of two relative to the nominal cadence. We also provide realistic hypothetical constraints on the kilonova rate as a form of comparison between strategies, assuming that no kilonovae are detected throughout the long-term execution of the respective observing plan. These results demonstrate how an optimal use of ZTF increases the likelihood of kilonova discovery independent of GWs or GRBs, thereby allowing for a sensitive search with less interruption of its nominal cadence through Target of Opportunity programs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2822-2831
Number of pages10
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s) Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Royal Astronomical Society.


  • methods: observational
  • neutron star mergers
  • telescopes


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