Gravitational-wave (GW) astronomy seeks to extract information about astrophysical systems from the GW signals they emit. For coalescing compact-binary sources this requires accurate model templates for the inspiral and, potentially, the subsequent merger and ringdown. Models with frequency-domain waveforms that terminate abruptly in the sensitive band of the detector are often used for parameter-estimation studies. We show that the abrupt waveform termination contains significant information that affects parameter-estimation accuracy. If the sharp cutoff is not physically motivated, this extra information can lead to misleadingly good accuracy claims. We also show that using waveforms with a cutoff as templates to recover complete signals can lead to biases in parameter estimates. We evaluate when the information content in the cutoff is likely to be important in both cases. We also point out that the standard Fisher matrix formalism, frequently employed for approximately predicting parameter-estimation accuracy, cannot properly incorporate an abrupt cutoff that is present in both signals and templates; this observation explains some previously unexpected results found in the literature. These effects emphasize the importance of using complete waveforms with accurate merger and ringdown phases for parameter estimation.
- compact binaries
- gravitational waves
- inference methods
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Physics and Astronomy (miscellaneous)