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    The recent detection of a stochastic gravitational wave background (SGWB) at nanohertz frequencies by pulsar timing arrays (PTAs) has sparked a flurry of interest. Beyond the standard interpretation that the progenitor is a network of supermassive black hole binaries, many exotic models have also been proposed, some of which can potentially offer a better fit to the data. We explore how the various connections between gravitational waves (GWs) and cosmic microwave background (CMB) spectral distortions (SDs) can be leveraged to help determine whether an SGWB was generated primordially or astrophysically. To this end, we present updated k-space window functions that can be used for distortion parameter estimation on enhancements to the primordial scalar power spectrum. These same enhancements can also source GWs directly at second order in perturbation theory, so-called scalar-induced GWs (SIGWs), and indirectly through the formation of primordial black holes (PBHs). We perform a mapping of scalar power spectrum constraints into limits on the GW parameter space of SIGWs for δ-function features. We highlight that broader features in the scalar spectrum can explain the PTA results while simultaneously producing an SD within reach of future experiments. We additionally update PBH constraints from μ- and y-type SDs. Refined treatments of the distortion window functions widen existing SD constraints, and we find that a future CMB spectrometer could play a pivotal role in unravelling the origin of GWs imprinted at or below CMB anisotropy scales.

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  2. Abstract

    Observing in six frequency bands from 27 to 280 GHz over a large sky area, the Simons Observatory (SO) is poised to address many questions in Galactic astrophysics in addition to its principal cosmological goals. In this work, we provide quantitative forecasts on astrophysical parameters of interest for a range of Galactic science cases. We find that SO can: constrain the frequency spectrum of polarized dust emission at a level of Δβd≲ 0.01 and thus test models of dust composition that predict thatβdin polarization differs from that measured in total intensity; measure the correlation coefficient between polarized dust and synchrotron emission with a factor of two greater precision than current constraints; exclude the nonexistence of exo-Oort clouds at roughly 2.9σif the true fraction is similar to the detection rate of giant planets; map more than 850 molecular clouds with at least 50 independent polarization measurements at 1 pc resolution; detect or place upper limits on the polarization fractions of CO(2–1) emission and anomalous microwave emission at the 0.1% level in select regions; and measure the correlation coefficient between optical starlight polarization and microwave polarized dust emission in 1° patches for all lines of sight withNH≳ 2 × 1020cm−2. The goals and forecasts outlined here provide a roadmap for other microwave polarization experiments to expand their scientific scope via Milky Way astrophysics.37

    A supplement describing author contributions to this paper can be found at

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