Neutron Stars mergers

Chasing Optical Kilonovae with subthreshold transients (Gamma Ray Bursts and Gravitational Waves)

Degree type


Closing date

27 March 2023



Citizenship requirement


About the research project

Einstein predicted in his general theory the existence of gravitational waves, ripples of space time formed when two extreme compact objects like neutrons stars merge to create a black hole. One hundred year after the theory, we observed for the first time those gravitational waves produced by the fusion of two black holes. We had to wait another 2 years to observe for the first time the merging of two neutrons stars. While doing so, their matter couldn't be swallowed and was exploded as a Gamma ray burst detected by NASA satellites in Xray and Gamma Ray that sent an alert worldwide to all astronomers, followed by the LIGO the Laser Interforemeter Gravitational Waves Observatory alert. After an amazing effort from astronomer all over the world, the most breakthrough discovery came through the first ever observation of a kilonova. The mystery surrounded those kilonovae are numerous. After 5 years of defections of LIGO, and 8 other neutron star mergers, we didn't observe another kilonova, left only with the result of this one that prove that gold and other heavy metal element we have on Earth, were actually produced during the merging of those 2 neutrons stars.

The idea of this thesis, as this event was low luminous in Gamma Rays, is to lower the threshold of detection of the Gamma Ray Bursts satellite, coincidental with Gravitational Waves detection threshold, in order to track the merging of Neutrons Stars coming from discarded events to increase the probability of finding another one and understand their pattern.

The student will work with Dr. Karelle Siellez, specialist in multi messenger astronomy (gravitational waves, gamma and X ray and Optical). The first step will be to develop skills of observation with optical telescopes, in order to track all the events that involve a neutron star merger from GW observatory and Gamma Ray Satellites. The second step will be to develop an algorithm in python to detect the high probably events discarded by Gamma Ray satellites and gravitational Wave Observatory. Once an event will be found, we will use the 50 cm optical telescopes to see if there is a Kilonova and the 1.3m right after if there is a positive observation. The students will also use world wide giant telescopes, and be part of a collaboration with France which will launch the next gamma ray burst satellite, as well as being part of the ARC OzGrav centre for excellence in Gravitational Waves. Finally with the data collected, the student will work on understanding the link between the progenitor and the central engine of those merging of neutrons stars, and the potential implication for our cosmological model.

Primary Supervisor

Meet Dr Karelle Siellez


Applicants will be considered for a Research Training Program (RTP) scholarship or Tasmania Graduate Research Scholarship (TGRS) which, if successful, provides:

  • a living allowance stipend of $31,500 per annum (2023 rate, indexed annually) for 3.5 years
  • a relocation allowance of up to $2,000
  • a tuition fees offset covering the cost of tuition fees for up to four years (domestic applicants only)

If successful, international applicants will receive a University of Tasmania Fees Offset for up to four years.

As part of the application process you may indicate if you do not wish to be considered for scholarship funding.


Applicants should review the Higher Degree by Research minimum entry requirements.

Additional eligibility criteria specific to this project/scholarship:

  • Honours degree in physics, astronomy, or a closely-related field
  • Applicants must be able to undertake the project on-campus

Selection Criteria

The project is competitively assessed and awarded.  Selection is based on academic merit and suitability to the project as determined by the College.

Additional essential selection criteria specific to this project:

  • Enthusiasm for, and experience in scientific computing

Application process

There is a three-step application process:

  1. Select your project, and check you meet the eligibility and selection criteria;
  2. Contact the Primary Supervisor, Dr Karelle Siellez to discuss your suitability and the project's requirements; and
  3. Submit an application by the closing date listed above.
    • Copy and paste the title of the project from this advertisement into your application. If you don’t correctly do this your application may be rejected.
    • As part of your application, you will be required to submit a covering letter, a CV including 2 x referees and your project research proposal.

Following the application closing date applications will be assessed within the College. Applicants should expect to receive notification of the outcome by email by the advertised outcome date.

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