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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available June 1, 2024
  2. Abstract The NANOGrav 15 yr data set shows evidence for the presence of a low-frequency gravitational-wave background (GWB). While many physical processes can source such low-frequency gravitational waves, here we analyze the signal as coming from a population of supermassive black hole (SMBH) binaries distributed throughout the Universe. We show that astrophysically motivated models of SMBH binary populations are able to reproduce both the amplitude and shape of the observed low-frequency gravitational-wave spectrum. While multiple model variations are able to reproduce the GWB spectrum at our current measurement precision, our results highlight the importance of accurately modeling binary evolution for producing realistic GWB spectra. Additionally, while reasonable parameters are able to reproduce the 15 yr observations, the implied GWB amplitude necessitates either a large number of parameters to be at the edges of expected values or a small number of parameters to be notably different from standard expectations. While we are not yet able to definitively establish the origin of the inferred GWB signal, the consistency of the signal with astrophysical expectations offers a tantalizing prospect for confirming that SMBH binaries are able to form, reach subparsec separations, and eventually coalesce. As the significance grows over time, higher-order features of the GWB spectrum will definitively determine the nature of the GWB and allow for novel constraints on SMBH populations. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available August 1, 2024
  3. Abstract We report multiple lines of evidence for a stochastic signal that is correlated among 67 pulsars from the 15 yr pulsar timing data set collected by the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves. The correlations follow the Hellings–Downs pattern expected for a stochastic gravitational-wave background. The presence of such a gravitational-wave background with a power-law spectrum is favored over a model with only independent pulsar noises with a Bayes factor in excess of 10 14 , and this same model is favored over an uncorrelated common power-law spectrum model with Bayes factors of 200–1000, depending on spectral modeling choices. We have built a statistical background distribution for the latter Bayes factors using a method that removes interpulsar correlations from our data set, finding p = 10 −3 (≈3 σ ) for the observed Bayes factors in the null no-correlation scenario. A frequentist test statistic built directly as a weighted sum of interpulsar correlations yields p = 5 × 10 −5 to 1.9 × 10 −4 (≈3.5 σ –4 σ ). Assuming a fiducial f −2/3 characteristic strain spectrum, as appropriate for an ensemble of binary supermassive black hole inspirals, the strain amplitude is 2.4 − 0.6 + 0.7 × 10 − 15 (median + 90% credible interval) at a reference frequency of 1 yr −1 . The inferred gravitational-wave background amplitude and spectrum are consistent with astrophysical expectations for a signal from a population of supermassive black hole binaries, although more exotic cosmological and astrophysical sources cannot be excluded. The observation of Hellings–Downs correlations points to the gravitational-wave origin of this signal. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available June 29, 2024
  4. Abstract The 15 yr pulsar timing data set collected by the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves (NANOGrav) shows positive evidence for the presence of a low-frequency gravitational-wave (GW) background. In this paper, we investigate potential cosmological interpretations of this signal, specifically cosmic inflation, scalar-induced GWs, first-order phase transitions, cosmic strings, and domain walls. We find that, with the exception of stable cosmic strings of field theory origin, all these models can reproduce the observed signal. When compared to the standard interpretation in terms of inspiraling supermassive black hole binaries (SMBHBs), many cosmological models seem to provide a better fit resulting in Bayes factors in the range from 10 to 100. However, these results strongly depend on modeling assumptions about the cosmic SMBHB population and, at this stage, should not be regarded as evidence for new physics. Furthermore, we identify excluded parameter regions where the predicted GW signal from cosmological sources significantly exceeds the NANOGrav signal. These parameter constraints are independent of the origin of the NANOGrav signal and illustrate how pulsar timing data provide a new way to constrain the parameter space of these models. Finally, we search for deterministic signals produced by models of ultralight dark matter (ULDM) and dark matter substructures in the Milky Way. We find no evidence for either of these signals and thus report updated constraints on these models. In the case of ULDM, these constraints outperform torsion balance and atomic clock constraints for ULDM coupled to electrons, muons, or gluons. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available June 29, 2024