Journal Article

Constraining the black hole mass spectrum with gravitational wave observations – I. The error kernel

Joseph E. Plowman, Daniel C. Jacobs, Ronald W. Hellings, Shane L. Larson and Sachiko Tsuruta

in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

Published on behalf of The Royal Astronomical Society

Volume 401, issue 4, pages 2706-2714
Published in print February 2010 | ISSN: 0035-8711
Published online January 2010 | e-ISSN: 1365-2966 | DOI:
Constraining the black hole mass spectrum with gravitational wave observations – I. The error kernel

Show Summary Details


Many scenarios have been proposed for the origin of the supermassive black holes (SMBHs) that are found in the centres of most galaxies. Many of these formation scenarios predict a high-redshift population of intermediate-mass black holes (IMBHs), with masses M in the range 102M≲ 105 M. A powerful way to observe these IMBHs is via gravitational waves the black holes emit as they merge. The statistics of the observed black hole population should, in principle, allow us to discriminate between competing astrophysical scenarios for the origin and formation of SMBHs. However, gravitational wave detectors such as Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) will not be able to detect all such mergers nor assign precise black hole parameters to the merger, due to weak gravitational wave signal strengths. In order to use LISA observations to infer the statistics of the underlying population, these errors must be taken into account. We describe here a method for folding the LISA gravitational wave parameter error estimates into an ‘error kernel’ designed for use at the population model level. The effects of this error function are demonstrated by applying it to several recent models of black hole mergers, and some tentative conclusions are made about LISA's ability to test scenarios of the origin and formation of SMBHs.

Keywords: black hole physics; gravitational waves; methods: statistical; early Universe

Journal Article.  7055 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Astronomy and Astrophysics

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.