Unveiling the lives and deaths of stars through compact object mergers
Merging compact objects encode a vast deal of information about their progenitor stellar systems, such as the types of galactic environments they were born in, the intricacies of stellar evolution the persisted throughout their lives, and the physics of the supernovae that marked their deaths. In this talk, I will highlight multiple open questions that can be illuminated through a combination of compact objects observations (via gravitational waves and/or electromagnetic radiation) and computational modeling of environments that lead to the formation of black holes and neutron stars. I first focus on how the growing catalog of black hole mergers observed by the LIGO-Virgo network can place constraints on binary black hole formation scenarios, both by uncovering gravitational-wave sources that have features specific to a subset of formation scenarios (such as spins that are anti-aligned from the orbital angular momentum, high masses that occupy the pair instability mass gap, and non-negligible eccentricities at merger) and through pairing Bayesian hierarchical inference with state-of-the-art astrophysical models. Next, I will show how various uncertain aspects of binary stellar evolution and supernova physics can be constrained by phenomena attributed to merging neutron stars, such as enigmatic r-process enrichment in globular clusters and the association between short gamma-ray bursts and their host galaxies.