Millions of Multiples: Detecting and Characterizing Close-separation Binary Systems in Synoptic Sky Surveys


The direct detection of binary systems in wide-field surveys is limited by the size of the stars’ point-spread functions (PSFs). A search for elongated objects can find closer companions, but is limited by the precision to which the PSF shape can be calibrated for individual stars. Based on a technique from weak- lensing analysis, we have developed the BinaryFinder algorithm to search for close binaries by using precision measurements of PSF ellipticity across wide-field survey images. We show that the algorithm is capable of reliably detecting binary systems down to ≈1/5 of the seeing limit, and can directly measure the systems’ position angles, separations, and contrast ratios. To verify the algorithm's performance we evaluated 100,000 objects in Palomar Transient Factory (PTF) wide-field-survey data for signs of binarity, and then used the Robo-AO robotic laser adaptive optics system to verify the parameters of 44 high-confidence targets. We show that BinaryFinder correctly predicts the presence of close companions with a <11% false-positive rate, measures the detected binaries’ position angles within 1° to 4° (depending on signal-to-noise ratio and separation), and separations within 25%, and weakly constrains their contrast ratios. When applied to the full PTF data set, we estimate that BinaryFinder will discover and characterize åisebox-0.5ex 450,000 physically associated binary systems with separations <2 arcsec and magnitudes brighter than m$_R$ = 18. New wide-field synoptic surveys with high sensitivity and sub-arcsecond angular resolution, such as LSST, will allow BinaryFinder to reliably detect millions of very faint binary systems with separations as small as 0.1 arcsec.

Astrophysical Journal Supp.