Binary supermassive black hole environments diminish the gravitational wave signal in the pulsar timing band
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We assess the effects of supermassive black hole (SMBH) environments on the gravitational wave (GW) signal from binary SMBHs. To date, searches with pulsar timing arrays for GWs from binary SMBHs, in the frequency band ∼1–100 nHz, include the assumptions that all binaries are circular and evolve only through GW emission. However, dynamical studies have shown that the only way that binary SMBH orbits can decay to separations where GW emission dominates the evolution is through interactions with their environments. We augment an existing galaxy and SMBH formation and evolution model with calculations of binary SMBH evolution in stellar environments, accounting for non-zero binary eccentricities. We find that coupling between binaries and their environments causes the expected GW spectral energy distribution to be reduced with respect to the standard assumption of circular, GW-driven binaries, for frequencies up to ∼20 nHz. Larger eccentricities at binary formation further reduce the signal in this regime. We also find that GW bursts from individual eccentric binary SMBHs are unlikely to be detectable with current pulsar timing arrays. The uncertainties in these predictions are large, owing to observational uncertainty in SMBH–galaxy scaling relations and the galaxy stellar mass function, uncertainty in the nature of binary–environment coupling and uncertainty in the numbers of the most massive binary SMBHs. We conclude, however, that low-frequency GWs from binary SMBHs may be more difficult to detect with pulsar timing arrays than currently thought.
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Ravi, V.; Wyithe, J.; Hobbs, G.; Shannon, Ryan; Manchester, R.; Yardley, D.; Keith, M. (2012)We investigate the effects of gravitational waves (GWs) from a simulated population of binary supermassive black holes (SMBHs) on pulsar timing array data sets. We construct a distribution describing the binary SMBH ...
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