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  1. ABSTRACT

    Observations of pulsar scintillation are among the few astrophysical probes of very small-scale (≲ au) phenomena in the interstellar medium (ISM). In particular, characterization of scintillation arcs, including their curvature and intensity distributions, can be related to interstellar turbulence and potentially overpressurized plasma in local ISM inhomogeneities, such as supernova remnants, H ii regions, and bow shocks. Here we present a survey of eight pulsars conducted at the Five-hundred-metre Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST), revealing a diverse range of scintillation arc characteristics at high sensitivity. These observations reveal more arcs than measured previously for our sample. At least nine arcs are observed toward B1929+10 at screen distances spanning $\sim 90~{{\ \rm per\ cent}}$ of the pulsar’s 361 pc path length to the observer. Four arcs are observed toward B0355+54, with one arc yielding a screen distance as close as ∼105 au (<1 pc) from either the pulsar or the observer. Several pulsars show highly truncated, low-curvature arcs that may be attributable to scattering near the pulsar. The scattering screen constraints are synthesized with continuum maps of the local ISM and other well-characterized pulsar scintillation arcs, yielding a three-dimensional view of the scattering media in context.

     
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  2. ABSTRACT

    Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are millisecond-time-scale radio transients, the origins of which are predominantly extragalactic and likely involve highly magnetized compact objects. FRBs undergo multipath propagation, or scattering, from electron density fluctuations on sub-parsec scales in ionized gas along the line of sight. Scattering observations have located plasma structures within FRB host galaxies, probed Galactic and extragalactic turbulence, and constrained FRB redshifts. Scattering also inhibits FRB detection and biases the observed FRB population. We report the detection of scattering times from the repeating FRB 20190520B that vary by up to a factor of 2 or more on minutes to days-long time-scales. In one notable case, the scattering time varied from 7.9 ± 0.4 ms to less than 3.1 ms ($95{{\ \rm per\ cent}}$ confidence) over 2.9 min at 1.45 GHz. The scattering times appear to be uncorrelated between bursts or with dispersion and rotation measure variations. Scattering variations are attributable to dynamic, inhomogeneous plasma in the circumsource medium, and analogous variations have been observed from the Crab pulsar. Under such circumstances, the frequency dependence of scattering can deviate from the typical power law used to measure scattering. Similar variations may therefore be detectable from other FRBs, even those with inconspicuous scattering, providing a unique probe of small-scale processes within FRB environments.

     
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  3. Abstract

    The interstellar medium hosts a population of scattering screens, most of unknown origin. Scintillation studies of pulsars provide a sensitive tool for resolving these scattering screens and a means of measuring their properties. In this paper, we report our analysis of 34 yr of Arecibo observations of PSR B1133 + 16, from which we have obtained high-quality dynamic spectra and their associated scintillation arcs, arising from the scattering screens located along the line of sight to the pulsar. We have identified six individual scattering screens that are responsible for the observed scintillation arcs, which persist for decades. Using the assumption that the scattering screens have not changed significantly in this time, we have modeled the variations in arc curvature throughout the Earth’s orbit and extracted information about the placement, orientation, and velocity of five of the six screens, with the highest-precision distance measurement placing a screen at just5.460.59+0.54pc from the Earth. We associate the more distant of these screens with an underdense region of the Local Bubble.

     
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  4. Abstract

    The repeating fast radio burst FRB 20190520B is localized to a galaxy atz= 0.241, much closer than expected given its dispersion measure DM = 1205 ± 4 pc cm−3. Here we assess implications of the large DM and scattering observed from FRB 20190520B for the host galaxy’s plasma properties. A sample of 75 bursts detected with the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope shows scattering on two scales: a mean temporal delayτ(1.41 GHz) = 10.9 ± 1.5 ms, which is attributed to the host galaxy, and a mean scintillation bandwidth Δνd(1.41 GHz) = 0.21 ± 0.01 MHz, which is attributed to the Milky Way. Balmer line measurements for the host imply an Hαemission measure (galaxy frame) EMs= 620 pc cm−6× (T/104K)0.9, implying DMHαof order the value inferred from the FRB DM budget,DMh=1121138+89pc cm−3for plasma temperatures greater than the typical value 104K. Combiningτand DMhyields a nominal constraint on the scattering amplification from the host galaxyF˜G=1.50.3+0.8(pc2km)1/3, whereF˜describes turbulent density fluctuations andGrepresents the geometric leverage to scattering that depends on the location of the scattering material. For a two-screen scattering geometry whereτarises from the host galaxy and Δνdfrom the Milky Way, the implied distance between the FRB source and dominant scattering material is ≲100 pc. The host galaxy scattering and DM contributions support a novel technique for estimating FRB redshifts using theτ–DM relation, and are consistent with previous findings that scattering of localized FRBs is largely dominated by plasma within host galaxies and the Milky Way.

     
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  5. 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
  6. 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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  7. 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
  8. 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
  9. 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
  10. 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