Astrophysical inference from pulsar timing array searches for gravitational waves

Middleton, Hannah Rose (2018). Astrophysical inference from pulsar timing array searches for gravitational waves. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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Gravitational waves (GWs) have been detected for the first time in 2015 by the LIGO-Virgo Scientific Collaboration. The source of the GWs was a binary black hole (BBH). The observation caught the final fraction of a second as the two black holes spiralled together and merged. This observation (and the others to follow) marked the beginnings of GW astronomy, ‘a new window on the dark universe’, providing a means to observe astronomical phenomena which may be completely inaccessible via other avenues as well as a new testing ground for Einstein’s theory of general relativity (GR). However, this is just the beginning – like electromagnetic astrophysics, there is a full spectrum of GW frequencies to explore.

At very low frequencies, pulsar timing arrays (PTAs) are being used to search for the GW background from the merging population of massive black hole binaries (MBHBs). No detection has yet been made, but upper limits have been placed. Here we present results on what inference on the MBHB population can be learnt from present and possible future PTA results, and also compare current upper limits with astrophysical predictions, finding them to be fully consistent so far.

We also present a generic method for testing the consistency of a theory against experimental evidence in the situation where there is no strong viable alternative (for example GR). We apply this to BBH observations, finding them to be fully consistent with GR and also to Newton’s constant of gravitation, where there is considerable inconsistency between measurements.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Engineering & Physical Sciences
School or Department: School of Physics and Astronomy
Funders: Other, Science and Technology Facilities Council
Other Funders: Royal Astronomical Society, The University of Birmingham
Subjects: Q Science > QB Astronomy
Q Science > QC Physics


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