Journal Article

Multimessenger astronomy with pulsar timing and X-ray observations of massive black hole binaries

A. Sesana, C. Roedig, M. T. Reynolds and M. Dotti

in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

Published on behalf of The Royal Astronomical Society

Volume 420, issue 1, pages 860-877
Published in print February 2012 | ISSN: 0035-8711
Published online January 2012 | e-ISSN: 1365-2966 | DOI:
Multimessenger astronomy with pulsar timing and X-ray observations of massive black hole binaries

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In the decade of the dawn of gravitational wave astronomy, the concept of multimessenger astronomy, combining gravitational wave signals to conventional electromagnetic observation, has attracted the attention of the astrophysical community. So far, most of the effort has been focused on ground- and space-based laser interferometer sources, with little attention devoted to the ongoing and upcoming pulsar timing arrays (PTAs). We argue in this paper that PTA sources, being very massive (>108 M) cosmologically nearby (z < 1) black hole binaries (MBHBs), are particularly appealing multimessenger carriers. According to current models for massive black hole formation and evolution, the planned Square Kilometre Array will observe thousands of such massive systems, being able to individually resolve and locate in the sky several of them (maybe up to a hundred). MBHBs form in galaxy mergers, which are usually accompanied by strong inflows of gas in the centre of the merger remnant. By employing a standard model for the evolution of MBHBs in circumbinary discs, with the aid of dedicated numerical simulations, we characterize the gas–binary interplay, identifying possible electromagnetic signatures of the PTA sources. We concentrate our investigation on two particularly promising scenarios in the high-energy domain, namely the detection of X-ray periodic variability and double broad Kα iron lines. Up to several hundreds of periodic X-ray sources with a flux >10−13 erg s−1 cm−2 will be in the reach of upcoming X-ray observatories; in the most optimistic case, a few of them may be already being observed by the MAXI detector placed on the International Space Station. Double relativistic Kα lines may be observable in a handful of low-redshift (z < 0.3) sources by proposed deep X-ray probes, such as Athena. The exact figures depend on the details of the adopted MBHB population and on the properties of the circumbinary discs, but the existence of a sizeable population of sources suitable to multimessenger astronomy is a robust prediction of our investigation.

Keywords: accretion, accretion discs; black hole physics; gravitational waves; pulsars: general; X-rays: general

Journal Article.  14854 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Astronomy and Astrophysics

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