On the rarity of double black hole binaries: Consequences for gravitational wave detection

Krzysztof Belczynski*, Ronald E. Taam, Vassiliki Kalogera, Frederic A. Rasio, Tomasz Bulik

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

176 Scopus citations


Double black hole binaries are among the most important sources of gravitational radiation for ground-based detectors such as LIGO or VIRGO. Even if formed with lower efficiency than double neutron star binaries, they could dominate the predicted detection rates, since black holes are more massive than neutron stars and therefore could be detected at greater distances. Here we discuss an evolutionary process that could very significantly limit the formation of close double black hole binaries: the vast majority of their potential progenitors undergo a common-envelope (CE) phase while the donor, one of the massive binary components, is evolving through the Hertzsprung gap. Our latest theoretical understanding of the CE process suggests that this will probably lead to a merger, inhibiting double black hole formation. Barring uncertainties in the physics of CE evolution, we use population synthesis calculations and find that the corresponding reduction in the merger rate of double black holes formed in galactic fields is so great (by ∼500) that their contribution to inspirai detection rates for ground-based detectors could become relatively small (∼ 1 in 10) compared to double neutron star binaries. A similar process also reduces the merger rates for double neutron stars, by a factor of ∼5, eliminating most of the previously predicted ultracompact NS-NS systems. Our predicted detection rates for Advanced LIGO are now much lower for double black holes (∼2 yr-1), but are still quite high for double neutron stars (∼20 yr-1). If double black holes were found to be dominant in the detected inspirai signals, this could indicate that they mainly originate from dense star clusters (not included here) or that our theoretical understanding of the CE phase requires significant revision.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)504-511
Number of pages8
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1 I
StatePublished - Jun 10 2007


  • Binaries: close
  • Black hole physics
  • Gravitational waves
  • Stars: evolution
  • Stars: neutron

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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