[1209.3712] Precession during merger 1: Strong polarization changes are observationally accessible features of strong-field gravity during binary black hole merger

Authors: R. O'Shaughnessy (1), L. London (2), J. Healy (2), D. Shoemaker (2) ((1) University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, (2) Center for Relativistic Astrophysics, Georgia Tech)

Date: 17 Sep 2012

Abstract: The short gravitational wave signal from the merger of compact binaries encodes a surprising amount of information about the strong-field dynamics of merger into frequencies accessible to ground-based interferometers. In this paper we describe a previously-unknown "precession" of the peak emission direction with time, both before and after the merger, about the total angular momentum direction. We demonstrate the gravitational wave polarization encodes the orientation of this direction to the line of sight. We argue the effects of polarization can be estimated nonparametrically, directly from the gravitational wave signal as seen along one line of sight, as a slowly-varying feature on top of a rapidly-varying carrier. After merger, our results can be interpreted as a coherent excitation of quasinormal modes of different angular orders, a superposition which naturally "precesses" and modulates the line-of-sight amplitude. Recent analytic calculations have arrived at a similar geometric interpretation. We suspect the line-of-sight polarization content will be a convenient observable with which to define new high-precision tests of general relativity using gravitational waves. Additionally, as the nonlinear merger process seeds the initial coherent perturbation, we speculate the amplitude of this effect provides a new probe of the strong-field dynamics during merger. To demonstrate the ubiquity of the effects we describe, we summarize the post-merger evolution of 104 generic precessing binary mergers. Finally, we provide estimates for the detectable impacts of precession on the waveforms from high-mass sources. These expressions may identify new precessing binary parameters whose waveforms are dissimilar from the existing sample.

abs pdf

Sep 19, 2012

1209.3712 (/preprints)
2012-09-19, 18:02 [edit]

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