The LIGO HET Response (LIGHETR) Project to Discover and Spectroscopically Follow Optical Transients Associated with Neutron Star Mergers

M. J. Bustamante-Rosell, Greg Zeimann, J. Craig Wheeler, Karl Gebhardt, Aaron Zimmerman, Chris Fryer, Oleg Korobkin, Richard Matzner, V. Ashley Villar, S. Karthik Yadavalli, Kaylee M. de Soto, Matthew Shetrone, Steven Janowiecki, Pawan Kumar, David Pooley, Benjamin P. Thomas, Hsin Yu Chen, Lifan Wang, Jozsef Vinkó, David J. SandRyan Wollaeger, Frederic V. Hessman, Kristen B. McQuinn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The LIGO HET Response (LIGHETR) project is an enterprise to follow up optical transients (OTs) discovered as gravitational-wave merger sources by the LIGO/Virgo collaboration (LVC). Early spectroscopy has the potential to constrain crucial parameters such as the aspect angle. The LIGHETR collaboration also includes the capacity to model the spectroscopic evolution of mergers to facilitate a real-time direct comparison of models with our data. The principal facility is the Hobby-Eberly Telescope. LIGHETR uses the massively replicated VIRUS array of spectrographs to search for associated OTs and obtain early blue spectra, and in a complementary role, the low-resolution LRS2 spectrograph is used to obtain spectra of viable candidates as well as a densely sampled series of spectra of true counterparts. Once an OT is identified, the anticipated cadence of spectra would match or considerably exceed anything achieved for GW170817 = AT2017gfo for which there were no spectra in the first 12 hr and thereafter only roughly once daily. We describe special HET-specific software written to facilitate the program and attempts to determine the flux limits to undetected sources. We also describe our campaign to follow up OT candidates during the third observational campaign of the LIGO and Virgo Scientific Collaborations. We obtained VIRUS spectroscopy of candidate galaxy hosts for five LVC gravitational-wave events and LRS2 spectra of one candidate for the OT associated with S190901ap. We identified that candidate, ZTF19abvionh = AT2019pip, as a possible Wolf-Rayet star in an otherwise unrecognized nearby dwarf galaxy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number102
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 1 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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