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  1. Abstract

    Recently we found compelling evidence for a gravitational-wave background with Hellings and Downs (HD) correlations in our 15 yr data set. These correlations describe gravitational waves as predicted by general relativity, which has two transverse polarization modes. However, more general metric theories of gravity can have additional polarization modes, which produce different interpulsar correlations. In this work, we search the NANOGrav 15 yr data set for evidence of a gravitational-wave background with quadrupolar HD and scalar-transverse (ST) correlations. We find that HD correlations are the best fit to the data and no significant evidence in favor of ST correlations. While Bayes factors show strong evidence for a correlated signal, the data does not strongly prefer either correlation signature, with Bayes factors ∼2 when comparing HD to ST correlations, and ∼1 for HD plus ST correlations to HD correlations alone. However, when modeled alongside HD correlations, the amplitude and spectral index posteriors for ST correlations are uninformative, with the HD process accounting for the vast majority of the total signal. Using the optimal statistic, a frequentist technique that focuses on the pulsar-pair cross-correlations, we find median signal-to-noise ratios of 5.0 for HD and 4.6 for ST correlations when fit for separately, and median signal-to-noise ratios of 3.5 for HD and 3.0 for ST correlations when fit for simultaneously. While the signal-to-noise ratios for each of the correlations are comparable, the estimated amplitude and spectral index for HD are a significantly better fit to the total signal, in agreement with our Bayesian analysis.

     
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available March 1, 2025
  2. Abstract

    Analyses of pulsar timing data have provided evidence for a stochastic gravitational wave background in the nanohertz frequency band. The most plausible source of this background is the superposition of signals from millions of supermassive black hole binaries. The standard statistical techniques used to search for this background and assess its significance make several simplifying assumptions, namely (i) Gaussianity, (ii) isotropy, and most often, (iii) a power-law spectrum. However, a stochastic background from a finite collection of binaries does not exactly satisfy any of these assumptions. To understand the effect of these assumptions, we test standard analysis techniques on a large collection of realistic simulated data sets. The data-set length, observing schedule, and noise levels were chosen to emulate the NANOGrav 15 yr data set. Simulated signals from millions of binaries drawn from models based on the Illustris cosmological hydrodynamical simulation were added to the data. We find that the standard statistical methods perform remarkably well on these simulated data sets, even though their fundamental assumptions are not strictly met. They are able to achieve a confident detection of the background. However, even for a fixed set of astrophysical parameters, different realizations of the universe result in a large variance in the significance and recovered parameters of the background. We also find that the presence of loud individual binaries can bias the spectral recovery of the background if we do not account for them.

     
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available November 29, 2024
  3. Abstract

    The radio galaxy 3C 66B has been hypothesized to host a supermassive black hole binary (SMBHB) at its center based on electromagnetic observations. Its apparent 1.05 yr period and low redshift (∼0.02) make it an interesting testbed to search for low-frequency gravitational waves (GWs) using pulsar timing array (PTA) experiments. This source has been subjected to multiple searches for continuous GWs from a circular SMBHB, resulting in progressively more stringent constraints on its GW amplitude and chirp mass. In this paper, we develop a pipeline for performing Bayesian targeted searches for eccentric SMBHBs in PTA data sets, and test its efficacy by applying it to simulated data sets with varying injected signal strengths. We also search for a realistic eccentric SMBHB source in 3C 66B using the NANOGrav 12.5 yr data set employing PTA signal models containing Earth term-only as well as Earth+pulsar term contributions using this pipeline. Due to limitations in our PTA signal model, we get meaningful results only when the initial eccentricitye0< 0.5 and the symmetric mass ratioη> 0.1. We find no evidence for an eccentric SMBHB signal in our data, and therefore place 95% upper limits on the PTA signal amplitude of 88.1 ± 3.7 ns for the Earth term-only and 81.74 ± 0.86 ns for the Earth+pulsar term searches fore0< 0.5 andη> 0.1. Similar 95% upper limits on the chirp mass are (1.98 ± 0.05) × 109and (1.81 ± 0.01) × 109M. These upper limits, while less stringent than those calculated from a circular binary search in the NANOGrav 12.5 yr data set, are consistent with the SMBHB model of 3C 66B developed from electromagnetic observations.

     
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  4. Abstract

    The North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves (NANOGrav) has reported evidence for the presence of an isotropic nanohertz gravitational-wave background (GWB) in its 15 yr data set. However, if the GWB is produced by a population of inspiraling supermassive black hole binary (SMBHB) systems, then the background is predicted to be anisotropic, depending on the distribution of these systems in the local Universe and the statistical properties of the SMBHB population. In this work, we search for anisotropy in the GWB using multiple methods and bases to describe the distribution of the GWB power on the sky. We do not find significant evidence of anisotropy. By modeling the angular power distribution as a sum over spherical harmonics (where the coefficients are not bound to always generate positive power everywhere), we find that the Bayesian 95% upper limit on the level of dipole anisotropy is (Cl=1/Cl=0) < 27%. This is similar to the upper limit derived under the constraint of positive power everywhere, indicating that the dipole may be close to the data-informed regime. By contrast, the constraints on anisotropy at higher spherical-harmonic multipoles are strongly prior dominated. We also derive conservative estimates on the anisotropy expected from a random distribution of SMBHB systems using astrophysical simulations conditioned on the isotropic GWB inferred in the 15 yr data set and show that this data set has sufficient sensitivity to probe a large fraction of the predicted level of anisotropy. We end by highlighting the opportunities and challenges in searching for anisotropy in pulsar timing array data.

     
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available October 1, 2024
  5. Abstract

    We present the results of a Bayesian search for gravitational wave (GW) memory in the NANOGrav 12.5 yr data set. We find no convincing evidence for any gravitational wave memory signals in this data set. We find a Bayes factor of 2.8 in favor of a model that includes a memory signal and common spatially uncorrelated red noise (CURN) compared to a model including only a CURN. However, further investigation shows that a disproportionate amount of support for the memory signal comes from three dubious pulsars. Using a more flexible red-noise model in these pulsars reduces the Bayes factor to 1.3. Having found no compelling evidence, we go on to place upper limits on the strain amplitude of GW memory events as a function of sky location and event epoch. These upper limits are computed using a signal model that assumes the existence of a common, spatially uncorrelated red noise in addition to a GW memory signal. The median strain upper limit as a function of sky position is approximately 3.3 × 10−14. We also find that there are some differences in the upper limits as a function of sky position centered around PSR J0613−0200. This suggests that this pulsar has some excess noise that can be confounded with GW memory. Finally, the upper limits as a function of burst epoch continue to improve at later epochs. This improvement is attributable to the continued growth of the pulsar timing array.

     
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  6. Abstract Evidence for a low-frequency stochastic gravitational-wave background has recently been reported based on analyses of pulsar timing array data. The most likely source of such a background is a population of supermassive black hole binaries, the loudest of which may be individually detected in these data sets. Here we present the search for individual supermassive black hole binaries in the NANOGrav 15 yr data set. We introduce several new techniques, which enhance the efficiency and modeling accuracy of the analysis. The search uncovered weak evidence for two candidate signals, one with a gravitational-wave frequency of ∼4 nHz, and another at ∼170 nHz. The significance of the low-frequency candidate was greatly diminished when Hellings–Downs correlations were included in the background model. The high-frequency candidate was discounted due to the lack of a plausible host galaxy, the unlikely astrophysical prior odds of finding such a source, and since most of its support comes from a single pulsar with a commensurate binary period. Finding no compelling evidence for signals from individual binary systems, we place upper limits on the strain amplitude of gravitational waves emitted by such systems. At our most sensitive frequency of 6 nHz, we place a sky-averaged 95% upper limit of 8 × 10 −15 on the strain amplitude. We also calculate an exclusion volume and a corresponding effective radius, within which we can rule out the presence of black hole binaries emitting at a given frequency. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available July 1, 2024
  7. Abstract We present observations and timing analyses of 68 millisecond pulsars (MSPs) comprising the 15 yr data set of the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves (NANOGrav). NANOGrav is a pulsar timing array (PTA) experiment that is sensitive to low-frequency gravitational waves (GWs). This is NANOGrav’s fifth public data release, including both “narrowband” and “wideband” time-of-arrival (TOA) measurements and corresponding pulsar timing models. We have added 21 MSPs and extended our timing baselines by 3 yr, now spanning nearly 16 yr for some of our sources. The data were collected using the Arecibo Observatory, the Green Bank Telescope, and the Very Large Array between frequencies of 327 MHz and 3 GHz, with most sources observed approximately monthly. A number of notable methodological and procedural changes were made compared to our previous data sets. These improve the overall quality of the TOA data set and are part of the transition to new pulsar timing and PTA analysis software packages. For the first time, our data products are accompanied by a full suite of software to reproduce data reduction, analysis, and results. Our timing models include a variety of newly detected astrometric and binary pulsar parameters, including several significant improvements to pulsar mass constraints. We find that the time series of 23 pulsars contain detectable levels of red noise, 10 of which are new measurements. In this data set, we find evidence for a stochastic GW background. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available June 29, 2024
  8. 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
  9. 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