A fast-evolving → supernova-like phenomenon resulting from the → merger of compact, binary objects such as two → neutron stars or a neutron star and a → black hole. A kilonova represents an → electromagnetic counterpart to → gravitational waves. Also called → macronova. A simple model of the phenomenon was put forward by Li and Paczynski (1998, ApJL 507, L59). The kilonova phenomenon can last between days and weeks following the merger. Within the small volume of space where a merger occurs, the combination of a huge amount of energy, and a large number of neutrons, is the instigator for the → r-process. The high density favors this rapid → neutron capture by nuclei, leading to the formation of new → chemical elements with high → atomic numbers and high → atomic weights. Many elements heavier than → iron form in these environments, including many rare elements, most notably → platinum (atomic number 78) and → gold (atomic number 79). The decay of heavy atomic nuclei leads to the radioactive heating and a release of electromagnetic radiation. The heat cannot easily escape as radiation, because of the high opacity of the ejected material. The heat is radiated thermally, heating up the nearby matter, which can be then seen in the → near-infrared. It was long thought that the r-process could also occur during core-collapse supernovae, but the density of neutrons within supernovae appears to be too low. The first indication of a kilonova following a short GRB came from the extensive follow-up of GRB 130603B, which was one of the nearest and brightest short GRBs ever detected, and also the first short GRB with an optical afterglow spectrum. The first kilonova found to be associated with a gravitational waves was detected in the study of → GW170817.
The term kilonova was introduced by Metzger et al. (2010, MNRAS 406, 2650), who argued that the peak luminosities of neutron star merger transients are typically ~ few × 1041 erg s-1, or a factor of ~ 103 larger than the → Eddington luminosity for a solar mass object. They therefore dubbed these events kilonovae; from → kilo-; → nova.