The origin of polarization in kilonovae and the case of the gravitational-wave counterpart AT 2017gfo
The gravitational-wave event GW 170817 was generated by the coalescence of two neutron stars and produced an electromagnetic transient, labelled AT 2017gfo, that was the target of a massive observational campaign. Polarimetry is a powerful diagnostic tool for probing the geometry and emission processes of unresolved sources, and the observed linear polarization for this event was consistent with being mostly induced by intervening dust, suggesting that the intrinsic emission was weakly polarized (P < 0.4-0.5%). Here we present a detailed analysis of the linear polarization expected from a merging neutron-star binary system by means of 3D Monte Carlo radiative transfer simulations assuming a range of possible configurations, wavelengths, epochs and viewing angles. We find that polarization originates from the non-homogeneous opacity distribution within the ejecta and can reach levels of 1% at early times (one to two days after the merger) and in the optical R band. Smaller polarization signals are expected at later epochs and different wavelengths. From the viewing-angle dependence of the polarimetric signal, we constrain the observer orientation of AT 2017gfo to within about 65° from the polar direction. The detection of non-zero polarization in future events will unambiguously reveal the presence of a lanthanide-free ejecta component and unveil its spatial and angular distribution.