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  1. Abstract

    Several features in the mass spectrum of merging binary black holes (BBHs) have been identified using data from the Third Gravitational Wave Transient Catalog (GWTC-3). These features are of particular interest as they may encode the uncertain mechanism of BBH formation. We assess if the features are statistically significant or the result of Poisson noise due to the finite number of observed events. We simulate catalogs of BBHs whose underlying distribution does not have the features of interest, apply the analysis previously performed on GWTC-3, and determine how often such features are spuriously found. We find that one of the features found in GWTC-3, the peak at ∼35M, cannot be explained by Poisson noise alone: peaks as significant occur in 1.7% of catalogs generated from a featureless population. This peak is therefore likely to be of astrophysical origin. The data is suggestive of an additional significant peak at ∼10M, though the exact location of this feature is not resolvable with current observations. Additional structure beyond a power law, such as the purported dip at ∼14M, can be explained by Poisson noise. We also provide a publicly available package,GWMockCat, that creates simulated catalogs of BBH events with correlated measurement uncertainty and selection effects according to user-specified underlying distributions and detector sensitivities.

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  2. Abstract

    We introduce the first complete nonparametric model for the astrophysical distribution of the binary black hole (BBH) population. Constructed from basis splines, we use these models to conduct the most comprehensive data-driven investigation of the BBH population to date, simultaneously fitting nonparametric models for the BBH mass ratio, spin magnitude and misalignment, and redshift distributions. With GWTC-3, we report the same features previously recovered with similarly flexible models of the mass distribution, most notably the peaks in merger rates at primary masses of ∼10Mand ∼35M. Our model reports a suppressed merger rate at low primary masses and a mass-ratio distribution consistent with a power law. We infer a distribution for primary spin misalignments that peaks away from alignment, supporting conclusions of recent work. We find broad agreement with the previous inferences of the spin magnitude distribution: the majority of BBH spins are small (a< 0.5), the distribution peaks ata∼ 0.2, and there is mild support for a nonspinning subpopulation, which may be resolved with larger catalogs. With a modulated power law describing the BBH merger rate’s evolution in redshift, we see hints of the rate evolution either flattening or decreasing atz∼ 0.2–0.5, but the full distribution remains entirely consistent with a monotonically increasing power law. We conclude with a discussion of the astrophysical context of our new findings and how nonparametric methods in gravitational-wave population inference are uniquely poised to complement to the parametric approach as we enter the data-rich era of gravitational-wave astronomy.

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  3. Abstract

    We introduce a semiparametric model for the primary mass distribution of binary black holes (BBHs) observed with gravitational waves (GWs) that applies a cubic-spline perturbation to a power law. We apply this model to the 46 BBHs included in the second gravitational-wave transient catalog (GWTC-2). The spline perturbation model recovers a consistent primary mass distribution with previous results, corroborating the existence of a peak at 35M(>97% credibility) found with the Powerlaw+Peakmodel. The peak could be the result of pulsational pair-instability supernovae. The spline perturbation model finds potential signs of additional features in the primary mass distribution at lower masses similar to those previously reported by Tiwari and Fairhurst. However, with fluctuations due to small-number statistics, the simpler Powerlaw+Peakand BrokenPowerlawmodels are both still perfectly consistent with observations. Our semiparametric approach serves as a way to bridge the gap between parametric and nonparametric models to more accurately measure the BBH mass distribution. With larger catalogs we will be able to use this model to resolve possible additional features that could be used to perform cosmological measurements and will build on our understanding of BBH formation, stellar evolution, and nuclear astrophysics.

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