Massive Black-Hole Binary Mergers: Dynamics, Environments & Expected Detections
Kelley, Luke Zoltan
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AbstractThis thesis studies the populations and dynamics of massive black-hole binaries and their mergers, and explores the implications for electromagnetic and gravitational-wave signals that will be detected in the near future. Massive black-holes (MBH) reside in the centers of galaxies, and when galaxies merge, their MBH interact and often pair together. We base our study on the populations of MBH and galaxies from the `Illustris' cosmological hydrodynamic simulations. The bulk of the binary merger dynamics, however, are unresolved in cosmological simulations. We implement a suite of comprehensive physical models for the merger process, like dynamical friction and gravitational wave emission, which are added in post-processing. Contrary to many previous studies, we find that the most massive binaries with near equal-mass companions are the most efficient at coalescing; though the process still typically takes gigayears.
From the data produced by these MBH binary populations and their dynamics, we calculate the expected gravitational wave (GW) signals: both the stochastic, GW background of countless unresolved sources, and the GW foreground of individually resolvable binaries which resound above the noise. Ongoing experiments, called pulsar timing arrays, are sensitive to both of these types of signals. We find that, while the current lack of detections is unsurprising, both the background and foreground will plausibly be detected in the next decade. Unlike previous studies which have predicted the foreground to be significantly harder to detect than the background, we find their typical amplitudes are comparable.
With traditional electromagnetic observations, there has also been a dearth of confirmed detections of MBH binary systems. We use our binaries, combined with models of emission from accreting MBH systems, to make predictions for the occurrence rate of systems observable using photometric, periodic-variability surveys. These variables should be detectable in current surveys, and indeed, we expect many candidates recently identified to be true binaries - though a significant fraction are likely false positives. Overall, this thesis finds the science of MBH binaries at an exciting cusp: just before incredible breakthroughs in observations, both electromagnetically and in the new age of gravitational wave astrophysics.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:40050091
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