Journal Article

Gravitational-wave memory and pulsar timing arrays

Rutger van Haasteren and Yuri Levin

in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

Published on behalf of The Royal Astronomical Society

Volume 401, issue 4, pages 2372-2378
Published in print February 2010 | ISSN: 0035-8711
Published online January 2010 | e-ISSN: 1365-2966 | DOI:
Gravitational-wave memory and pulsar timing arrays

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Pulsar timing arrays (PTAs) are designed to detect gravitational waves with periods from several months to several years, e.g. those produced by wide supermassive black hole binaries in the centres of distant galaxies. Here, we show that PTAs are also sensitive to mergers of supermassive black holes. While these mergers occur on a time-scale too short to be resolvable by a PTA, they generate a change of metric due to non-linear gravitational-wave memory which persists for the duration of the experiment and could be detected. We develop the theory of the single-source detection by PTAs, and derive the sensitivity of PTAs to the gravitational-wave memory jumps. We show that mergers of 108 M black holes are 2 −σ-detectable (in a direction-, polarization- and time-dependent way) out to comoving distances of ∼1 billion light-years. Modern prediction for black hole merger rates imply marginal to modest chance of an individual jump detection by currently developed PTAs. The sensitivity is expected to be somewhat higher for futuristic PTA experiments with the Square Kilometre Array.

Keywords: gravitational waves; methods: data analysis; pulsars: general

Journal Article.  4870 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Astronomy and Astrophysics

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