skip to main content

Title: ARE WE THERE YET? TIME TO DETECTION OF NANOHERTZ GRAVITATIONAL WAVES BASED ON PULSAR-TIMING ARRAY LIMITS

Decade-long timing observations of arrays of millisecond pulsars have placed highly constraining upper limits on the amplitude of the nanohertz gravitational-wave stochastic signal from the mergers of supermassive black hole binaries (∼10{sup −15} strain at f = 1 yr{sup −1}). These limits suggest that binary merger rates have been overestimated, or that environmental influences from nuclear gas or stars accelerate orbital decay, reducing the gravitational-wave signal at the lowest, most sensitive frequencies. This prompts the question whether nanohertz gravitational waves (GWs) are likely to be detected in the near future. In this Letter, we answer this question quantitatively using simple statistical estimates, deriving the range of true signal amplitudes that are compatible with current upper limits, and computing expected detection probabilities as a function of observation time. We conclude that small arrays consisting of the pulsars with the least timing noise, which yield the tightest upper limits, have discouraging prospects of making a detection in the next two decades. By contrast, we find large arrays are crucial to detection because the quadrupolar spatial correlations induced by GWs can be well sampled by many pulsar pairs. Indeed, timing programs that monitor a large and expanding set of pulsars have an ∼80% probability ofmore » detecting GWs within the next 10 years, under assumptions on merger rates and environmental influences ranging from optimistic to conservative. Even in the extreme case where 90% of binaries stall before merger and environmental coupling effects diminish low-frequency gravitational-wave power, detection is delayed by at most a few years.« less
Authors:
; ; ; ; ;  [1]
  1. Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, 4800 Oak Grove Drive, Pasadena, CA 91109 (United States)
Publication Date:
OSTI Identifier:
22518607
Resource Type:
Journal Article
Resource Relation:
Journal Name: Astrophysical Journal Letters; Journal Volume: 819; Journal Issue: 1; Other Information: Country of input: International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
Country of Publication:
United States
Language:
English
Subject:
79 ASTROPHYSICS, COSMOLOGY AND ASTRONOMY; BINARY STARS; BLACK HOLES; CORRELATIONS; DATA ANALYSIS; DETECTION; GRAVITATIONAL WAVES; PROBABILITY; PULSARS; SIGNALS; STOCHASTIC PROCESSES; STRAINS