School of Physical and Chemical Sciences, Te Kura Matū, Seminar Series

The BlackGEM array for Gravitational wave counterparts


Paul Groot, Erskine Visitor


Department of Astrophysics of Radboud University in Nijmegen, The Netherlands

Time & Place

Fri, 04 Aug 2017 11:00:00 NZST in Room 531, Level 5, Rutherford Building

All are welcome


The direct detection of gravitational waves originating in black hole/ neutron star mergers with the LIGO/Virgo laser interferometers has opened up a completely new window on the Universe. The next step is to also detect these merger  events in the electromagnetic spectrum to allow the identification of host galaxies, make independent distance measurements, identify stellar host populations, delay times with star formation history, and to understand the contribution of these events to the origin of r-processed elements in the Universe such as gold and silver. The biggest challenges in detecting these counterparts is the poor sky localization of LIGO/Virgo combined with the unknown nature of astronomical transients at the expected, faint, brightness levels. The BlackGEM array is designed to detect the 'golden glow' from the semi-relativistic ejecta expected in merger events including neutron stars. The BlackGEM array consists of, at least, three optical wide field telescopes, to be placed in Chile, that can scan the sky localization boxes in multiple optical filters at high speed and depths. BlackGEM will also, as enabling projects, scan the full Southern Hemisphere skies in six optical bands down to 22nd magnitude and characterize the population of fast, minute-timescale, transients and variables in the sky. The BlackGEM prototype MeerLICHT is now being commissioned in South Africa and first light of the BlackGEM array is expected late 2018. Ultimately the goal for the BlackGEM array is to expand to 12 telescopes, located around the Southern Hemisphere, including New Zealand. The University of Canterbury has joined the BlackGEM consortium through new astronomy staff member Simone Scaringi.



Paul Groot is a professor of astronomy at Radboud University, located in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. He obtained his PhD in 1999 at the University of Amsterdam, among others on the first detection of optical afterglows from gamma-ray bursts. After a stay at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics as a CfA fellow hereturned to the Netherlands in 2002 to co-found the Department of Astrophysics at Radboud University. He served as chair of the Department from 2006 - 2016 and as chair of the Netherlands Research School for Astronomy (NOVA) from 2012 - 2016. In this role he played a very active role in setting the research and instrumentation strategy for Dutch astronomy. His research is focused on compact binary systems, transients in the Universe and gravitational wave astrophysics. He has a keen interest in astronomical instrumentation, among others as Project Scientist on the VLT X-Shooter spectrograph and Principal Investigator on both the MeerLICHT telescope and the BlackGEM array. He is the co-recipient of the 2002 EU Descartes Prize, the 2016  Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics and the 2016 Gruber Prize in Cosmology. He is currently visiting the University of Canterbury on an Erskine fellowship.