Candidate Electromagnetic Counterpart to the Binary Black Hole Merger Gravitational Wave Event S190521g


We report the first plausible optical electromagnetic (EM) counterpart to a (candidate) binary black hole (BBH) merger. Detected by the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF), the EM flare is consistent with expectations for a kicked BBH merger in the accretion disk of an active galactic nucleus (AGN), and is unlikely ($<O(0.01%$)) due to intrinsic variability of this source. The lack of color evolution implies that it is not a supernovae and instead is strongly suggestive of a constant temperature shock. Other false-positive events, such as microlensing or a tidal disruption event, are ruled out or constrained to be $<O(0.1%$). If the flare is associated with S190521g, we find plausible values of: total mass $ M{rm BBH} sim 100 M{odot}$, kick velocity $vk sim 200, {rm km}, {rm s}^{-1}$ at $theta sim 60^{circ}$ in a disk with aspect ratio $H/a sim 0.01$ (i.e., disk height $H$ at radius $a$) and gas density $rho sim 10^{-10}, {rm g}, {rm cm}^{-3}$. The merger could have occurred at a disk migration trap ($a sim 700, r{g}$; $rg equiv G M{rm SMBH} / c^2$, where $M{rm SMBH}$ is the mass of the AGN supermassive black hole). The combination of parameters implies a significant spin for at least one of the black holes in S190521g. The timing of our spectroscopy prevents useful constraints on broad-line asymmetry due to an off-center flare. We predict a repeat flare in this source due to a re-encountering with the disk in $sim 1.6, {rm yr}, (M{rm SMBH}/10^{8}M{odot}), (a/10^{3}r{g})^{32}$.