Charles E. Kaufman Foundation

2016 New Investigator Grant

Chad Hanna, Ph.D. Assistant Professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy and Astrophysics, Pennsylvania State University

Reducing selection bias in gravitational wave detection of compact binary merger


The LIGO Scientific Collaboration’s recent detection of gravitational waves from a merging pair of black holes has opened a new window on the Universe. Gravitational wave observations will allow us to explore fundamental physics and astrophysics in ways that were never before possible. We were fortunate to have such an unambiguous signal for the first detection; however, not all future gravitational wave signals will be as easily identified. In general, the gravitational wave signal observed from a binary merger will depend strongly on the source’s physical parameters. Since we cannot know the source’s parameters in advance, each possible signal has to be searched for separately in order to guarantee success. Often, approximations are made to ease the computational burden of conducting gravitational wave searches. These approximations can selectively bias detections to only those sources that best obey the approximations. Unfortunately, the sources that are selected against in the present detection process may also be the most physically interesting. Such sources may exhibit rich dynamics that are a hallmark signature of the extreme predictions of general relativity. Detecting such systems will provide further tests of the dynamics predicted by general relativity and will constrain binary stellar formation scenarios. If funded, this proposal will sponsor research to reduce selection bias in the future detections of gravitational wave events thereby enriching the astrophysical interpretation of binary mergers and increasing the sample size available for tests of fundamental physics.

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