Hierarchical analysis of gravitational-wave measurements of binary black hole spin-orbit misalignments

Simon Stevenson*, Christopher Philip Luke Berry, Ilya Mandel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


Binary black holes (BBHs) may form both through isolated binary evolution and through dynamical interactions in dense stellar environments. The formation channel leaves an imprint on the alignment between the BHspins and the orbital angular momentum. Gravitationalwaves (GW) from these systems directly encode information about the spin-orbit misalignment angles, allowing them to be (weakly) constrained. Identifying subpopulations of spinning BBHs will inform us about compact binary formation and evolution. We simulate a mixed population of BBHs with spin-orbit misalignments modelled under a range of assumptions. We then develop a hierarchical analysis and apply it to mockGWobservations of these populations. Assuming a population with dimensionless spin magnitudes of χ = 0.7, we show that tens of observations will make it possible to distinguish the presence of subpopulations of coalescing binary black holes based on their spin orientations. With 100 observations, it will be possible to infer the relative fraction of coalescing BBHs with isotropic spin directions (corresponding to dynamical formation in our models) with a fractional uncertainty of ~40 per cent. Meanwhile, only ~5 observations are sufficient to distinguish between extreme models - all BBHs either having exactly aligned spins or isotropic spin directions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2801-2811
Number of pages11
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2017


  • Black hole physics
  • Gravitational waves
  • Methods: data analysis
  • Stars: evolution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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