Triplets of supermassive black holes: Astrophysics, Gravitational Waves and Detection

Amaro-Seoane, Pau
Sesana, Alberto
Hoffman, Loren
Benacquista, Matthew
Eichhorn, Christoph
Makino, Junichiro
Spurzem, Rainer
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Supermassive black holes (SMBHs) found in the centers of many galaxies have been recognized to play a fundamental active role in the cosmological structure formation process. In hierarchical formation scenarios, SMBHs are expected to form binaries following the merger of their host galaxies. If these binaries do not coalesce before the merger with a third galaxy, the formation of a black hole triple system is possible. Numerical simulations of the dynamics of triples within galaxy cores exhibit phases of very high eccentricity (as high as $e \sim 0.99$). During these phases, intense bursts of gravitational radiation can be emitted at orbital periapsis. This produces a gravitational wave signal at frequencies substantially higher than the orbital frequency. The likelihood of detection of these bursts with pulsar timing and the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna ({\it LISA}) is estimated using several population models of SMBHs with masses $\gtrsim 10^7 {\rm M_\odot}$. Assuming a fraction of binaries $\ge 0.1$ in triple system, we find that few to few dozens of these bursts will produce residuals $>1$ ns, within the sensitivity range of forthcoming pulsar timing arrays (PTAs). However, most of such bursts will be washed out in the underlying confusion noise produced by all the other 'standard' SMBH binaries emitting in the same frequency window. A detailed data analysis study would be required to assess resolvability of such sources. Implementing a basic resolvability criterion, we find that the chance of catching a resolvable burst at a one nanosecond precision level is 2-50%, depending on the adopted SMBH evolution model. On the other hand, the probability of detecting bursts produced by massive binaries (masses $\gtrsim 10^7\msun$) with {\it LISA} is negligible.
Comment: Accepted for publication by MNRAS, minor changes
Astrophysics - Cosmology and Nongalactic Astrophysics, Astrophysics - Astrophysics of Galaxies, General Relativity and Quantum Cosmology