The Microphysics of the GW170817 Kilonova
University of Notre Dame
The optical signal that accompanied the GW170817 gravitational wave event provided the first firm proof that neutron star mergers produce heavy elements. Still, it is not known exactly which elements are produced by mergers and in what proportions. A full understanding of neutron star mergers and their role in galactic chemical evolution requires progress in a number of areas. Two key areas are neutrino and nuclear physics. Neutrino physics shapes the initial conditions for element synthesis, and the nuclear physics of extreme neutron-rich nuclei governs how the nucleosynthesis proceeds. Here we will review these microphysics aspects of neutron star merger nucleosynthesis and discuss how current uncertainties influence our interpretations of observed abundance patterns and kilonova signals. We will then explore the promise of experimental campaigns at rare isotope beam facilities to both reduce these uncertainties and provide insight into astrophysical environments of heavy element production.