The High-Energy Astrophysics Division (HEAD) of the American Astronomical Society has selected the winners for its top prizes for the upcoming year.

The 2019 Rossi Prize has been awarded to Brian Metzger of Columbia University and Daniel Kasen of the University of California at Berkeley for their theoretical predictions of electromagnetic emission from radioactive nuclei produced in neutron star mergers. These predictions were confirmed by observations of the 2017 neutron star merger gravitational wave event, providing the first compelling evidence for the astrophysical site of rapid neutron capture nucleosynthesis.

“This was the first time we had witnessed such a catastrophic event up close, revealing so clearly the characteristic glow from the fresh synthesis of the heaviest elements predicted by theory,” said Metzger. “A huge amount of credit should go to the LIGO/Virgo experiment and the many observational astronomers, whose cunning enabled the discovery of the kilonova.”

“Visions of neutron stars colliding, and precious metals forming in their rubble, were for many years just images in theorists’ minds, so it's been fun to see them suddenly appear in a faint red glow that we can all see with our own eyes,” said Kasen. “It took a diverse community of many scientists to launch this exciting new field.” 

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