When Are LIGO/Virgo's Big Black Hole Mergers?

Maya Fishbach, Zoheyr Doctor, Thomas Callister, Bruce Edelman, Jiani Ye, Reed Essick, Will M. Farr, Ben Farr, Daniel E. Holz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations

Abstract

We study the evolution of the binary black hole (BBH) mass distribution across cosmic time. The second gravitational-wave transient catalog (GWTC-2) from LIGO/Virgo contains BBH events out to redshifts z ∼ 1, with component masses in the range ∼5-80 M o. In this catalog, the biggest BBHs, with m 1 ⪆ 45 M o, are only found at the highest redshifts, z ⪆ 0.4. We ask whether the absence of high-mass observations at low redshift indicates that the mass distribution evolves: The biggest BBHs only merge at high redshift, and cease merging at low redshift. Modeling the BBH primary-mass spectrum as a power law with a sharp maximum mass cutoff (Truncated model), we find that the cutoff increases with redshift (> 99.9% credibility). An abrupt cutoff in the mass spectrum is expected from (pulsational) pair-instability supernova simulations; however, GWTC-2 is only consistent with a Truncated mass model if the location of the cutoff increases from at z < 0.4 to at z > 0.4. Alternatively, if the primary-mass spectrum has a break in the power law (Broken Power Law) at , rather than a sharp cutoff, the data are consistent with a nonevolving mass distribution. In this case, the overall rate of mergers, at all masses, increases with redshift. Future observations will distinguish between a sharp mass cutoff that evolves with redshift and a nonevolving mass distribution with a gradual taper, such as a Broken Power Law. After ∼100 BBH merger observations, a continued absence of high-mass, low-redshift events would provide a clear signature that the mass distribution evolves with redshift.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number98
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Volume912
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - May 10 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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