Dr. Sean McWilliams

Princeton University

Gravitational waves and stalled satellites from massive galaxy mergers at z < 1

Pulsar timing arrays (PTAs), which are currently operating around the world and achieving remarkable sensitivities, will observe supermassive black holes (SMBHs) at redshifts z < ~1. Until now, all estimates of the anticipated signal strength of these sources have relied primarily on simulations to predict the relevant merger rates. I will present results from a completely new approach, which combines observational data and a fully self-consistent numerical evolution of the galaxy mass function. This method, which we will argue is superior to past estimates in several key ways, predicts a merger rate for massive galaxies that is ~10 times larger than that implied by previous calculations. I will explain why previous methods applied to this problem will systematically underestimate this merger rate. Finally, I will show that the new rate implies a range of possible signal strengths that is already in mild tension with PTA observations, with our model predicting a detection at the 95% confidence level as early as 2016. This would make PTAs the first instruments to directly detect gravitational waves, and would provide unprecedented information about the dynamics of merging galaxies, and merging bulges and supermassive black holes within those galaxies.

Back to Spring 2013 Astrophysics Seminars

Received Jan 24, 2013