Journal Article

Triplets of supermassive black holes: astrophysics, gravitational waves and detection

Pau Amaro-Seoane, Alberto Sesana, Loren Hoffman, Matthew Benacquista, Christoph Eichhorn, Junichiro Makino and Rainer Spurzem

in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

Published on behalf of The Royal Astronomical Society

Volume 402, issue 4, pages 2308-2320
Published in print March 2010 | ISSN: 0035-8711
Published online March 2010 | e-ISSN: 1365-2966 | DOI:
Triplets of supermassive black holes: astrophysics, gravitational waves and detection

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Supermassive black holes (SMBHs) found in the centres of many galaxies are understood to play a fundamental, active role in the cosmological structure formation process. In hierarchical formation scenarios, SMBHs are expected to form binaries following the merger of their host galaxies. If these binaries do not coalesce before the merger with a third galaxy, the formation of a black hole triple system is possible. Numerical simulations of the dynamics of triples within galaxy cores exhibit phases of very high eccentricity (as high as e∼ 0.99). During these phases, intense bursts of gravitational radiation can be emitted at orbital periapsis, which produces a gravitational wave signal at frequencies substantially higher than the orbital frequency. The likelihood of detection of these bursts with pulsar timing and the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) is estimated using several population models of SMBHs with masses >rsim 107 M. Assuming that 10 per cent or more of binaries are in triple systems, we find that up to a few dozen of these bursts will produce residuals >1 ns, within the sensitivity range of forthcoming pulsar timing arrays. However, most of such bursts will be washed out in the underlying confusion noise produced by all the other ‘standard’ SMBH binaries emitting in the same frequency window. A detailed data analysis study would be required to assess resolvability of such sources. Implementing a basic resolvability criterion, we find that the chance of catching a resolvable burst at a 1 ns precision level is 2–50 per cent, depending on the adopted SMBH evolution model. On the other hand, the probability of detecting bursts produced by massive binaries (masses ≳107 M) with LISA is negligible.

Keywords: gravitational waves; pulsars: general; cosmology: theory

Journal Article.  9955 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Astronomy and Astrophysics

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