Davide Gerosa

March 31, 2021

Testing general relativity with gravitational-wave catalogs: the insidious nature of waveform systematics.

General Relativity works well. But we still want to test it, and I guess that’s because it actually works too well (you know, all those quantum things that don’t really fit, etc). And we want to test it with gravitational-wave data, and not just because it’s the new cool thing to do (though it is!) but also because they gravitational waves give us insight into the strong-field regime of gravity where new things, if they are there at all, should show up. Now, all of this sounds great but, in practice, one has to deal with the actual model used to analyze the data. Errors in these signal models (aka waveforms), which are somewhat inevitable, can trick us into thinking we have seen a deviation from General Relativity. So, before you go out on the street and shout that Einstein was wrong, keep calm and mind your waveform.

Christopher J. Moore, Eliot Finch, Riccardo Buscicchio, Davide Gerosa.
iScience 24 (2021) 102577.
arXiv:2103.16486 [gr-qc].
Other press coverage: indiescience, sciencedaily, phys.org, astronomy.com, physicsworld.

ps. The codename for this paper was SANITY: SystemAtics usiNg populatIons to Test general relativitY.

March 31, 2021

Group study on BH binaries in AGN disks

This is a quick update some of our group activities… In the past few months we’ve been busy learning about the formation of stellar-mass black-hole binaries in the disks of active galactic nuclei. We organized a journal club and studied one paper each week on this “new” formation channel for LIGO sources. We discussed a ton of topics, going from disk accretion to migration traps, LIGO rates, AGN variability, GW counterparts, hierarchical mergers, all the way to EMRIs.

Here is a log of all the sessions: davidegerosa.com/bhbin-agndisks

Let me thanks all those who took part and presented papers including Daria, Matt (1), Chris, Eliot, Matt (2), Alberto, Evan, Riccardo, and Sean.

March 9, 2021

A taxonomy of black-hole binary spin precession and nutation

Here is the latest in our (by now long) series of papers on black-hole binaries spin precession. This work was is championed by two outstanding PhD students, Daria (in my group) and Nate (UT Dallas). The key idea behind this paper is that, for black-hole spins, one cannot really talk about precession without talking about nutation (although we only say “precession” all the time…). The spin of, say, the Earth also does both precession (azimuthal motion) and nutation (polar motion). But, unlike in the Earth problem, for black-hole spins the two motions happen on roughly the same timescale meaning that you cannot really take them apart. Or can you? We stress the role of five parameters that characterize the combined phenomenology of precession and nutation. The hope is now to use them as building blocks for future waveforms… stay tuned!

Daria Gangardt, Nathan Steinle, Michael Kesden, Davide Gerosa, Evangelos Stoikos.
Physical Review D 103 (2021) 124026.
arXiv:2103.03894 [gr-qc].

ps. Stupid autocorrect! It’s nutation, not mutation.

January 29, 2021

Eccentric binary black hole surrogate models for the gravitational waveform and remnant properties: comparable mass, nonspinning case

Orbital eccentricity in gravitational-wave observations has been long neglected. And with good reasons! Gravitation-wave emission tends to circularize sources. By the time black holes are detectable by LIGO/Virgo/LISA/whatever, they should have had ample time to become circular. Unless something exciting goes on in their formation, things like clusters, triples, Kozai-Lidov oscillations, etc. And if that happens, we want to see it! This paper contains the first model for gravitational waveforms and black-hole remnants (final mass, spin) trained directly on eccentric numerical relativity simulations. Because eccentric is the new circular.

Tousif Islam, Vijay Varma, Jackie Lodman, Scott E. Field, Gaurav Khanna, Mark A. Scheel, Harald P. Pfeiffer, Davide Gerosa, and Lawrence E. Kidder.
Physical Review D 103 (2021) 064022.
arXiv:2101.11798 [gr-qc].

January 22, 2021


We are running a virtual workshop with my group (Bham) and Emanuele Berti’s group at Johns Hopkins University (Hop). It’s an attempt to feel a bit less lonely during the COVID pandemic. Hope this is the opportunity to start new projects! And we’re a funny crowd…

For more: davidegerosa.com/hopbham-workshop/

December 15, 2020

Up-down instability of binary black holes in numerical relativity

[Intro music…Now imagine one of those voices from a TV show trailer…]

Up-down instability S01-E03.
“Previously on the up-down instability. After finding out that the instability exists (S01-E01) and calculating its analytic endpoint (S01-E02), one terrifying prospect remains. What if it’s just PN? Can all of this disappear in the strong-field regime? This challenge now needs to be faced”.

Today’s paper is the latest in our investigations of the up-down instability in binary black holes. If the primary black hole is aligned and the secondary is anti-aligned to the orbital angular momentum, the entire system is unstable to spin precession. We found this funny thing using a post-Newtonian (read: approximate) treatment but we couldn’t be 100% sure that this would still be true when the black holes merge and our approximation fails. So, we got our outstanding SXS friends on board and ask them if they could see the same effect with their numerical relativity (read: the real deal!) code. And the answer is… yes! The instability is really there! And by the way, these are among the longest numerical relativity simulations ever done.

Vijay Varma, Matthew Mould, Davide Gerosa, Mark A. Scheel, Lawrence E. Kidder, Harald P. Pfeiffer.
Physical Review D 103 (2021) 064003.
arXiv:2012.07147 [gr-qc].
Supporting material available here.

November 25, 2020

A generalized precession parameter chi_p to interpret gravitational-wave data

Spin precession is cool, and we want to measure it. In General Relativity, the orbital plane of a binary is not fixed but moves around. This effect is related to the spin of the orbiting black holes and contains a ton of astrophysical information. The question we try to address in this paper is the following: how does one quantify “how much” precession a system has? This is typically done by condensing information into a parameter called \(\chi_{\rm p}\), which is here generalize to include two- spin effects. There are two black holes in a binary and we received numerous complaints from the secondaries: they want to join the gravitational-wave fun!

Davide Gerosa, Matthew Mould, Daria Gangardt, Patricia Schmidt, Geraint Pratten, Lucy M. Thomas.
Physical Review D 103 (2021) 064067.
arXiv:2011.11948 [gr-qc].
Open-source code: homepagerepository.

November 16, 2020

Nicola joins the band

It’s a great pleasure to welcome Nicola Giacobbo, who starts his postdoc with us today. Nicola completed his PhD and first postdoc year in Padova, and is an expert in population-synthesis simulations, compact binary progenitors, stellar physics, and all those funny things. Welcome Nicola!

November 10, 2020

Inferring the properties of a population of compact binaries in presence of selection effects

If you want to know what’s out there, you need to figure out what’s missing. And gravitational-wave astronomy is no exception. We are trying to infer how things like black holes and neutron stars behave in the Universe given a limited number of observations, which are somehow selected by our detectors. This is a very general problem which is common to a variety of fields of science. We provide a hopefully pedagogical introduction to population inference, deriving all the necessary statistics from the ground up. In other terms, here is what you always wanted to know about this population business everyone is talking about but never dared to ask.

This document is going to be part of a truly massive “Handbook of Gravitational Wave Astronomy” soon to be published by Springer (not really a handbook I would say, you probably need a truck to carry it around).

Salvatore Vitale, Davide Gerosa, Will M. Farr, Stephen R. Taylor.
Chapter of “Handbook of Gravitational Wave Astronomy”; Springer Singapore (2021).
arXiv:2007.05579 [astro-ph.IM].

September 17, 2020

ERC Starting Grant

I was awarded a Starting Grant from the European Research Council for my program titled “Gravitational-wave data mining”. My team and I will look into gravitational-wave data, machine-learning tools, black-hole binary dynamics, stellar-evolution simulations, etc. The total awarded amount is 1.5M EUR. Here is the press release from the Birmingham news office.

Thank you Europe, you’re great.

September 11, 2020

Congrats to MSc students

Congratulations to my Master’s students that graduate this year:  Abdullah Aziz and Julian Chan from the University of Birmingham, and Beatrice Basset from the University of Lyon. Well done all, and good luck with your future adventures.

July 30, 2020

Structure of neutron stars in massive scalar-tensor gravity

And here is the latest episode in the series of our massive scalar-tensor gravity papers… After stellar collapse, we now look at how neutron stars look like in this strange theory of gravity (recap: “massive scalar-tensor” means that gravity is mediated by the usual metric plus a scalar field which as a mass). Result: not only the theory is strange, stars are strange too! If you want to get a neutron star of 40 solar masses, look no further, massive scalar-tensor is the theory for you. More seriously, we explore all the different families of static solutions, highlighting a remarkable phenomenology. This is the kind of predictions we need to test gravity with astrophysical sources!

Roxana Rosca-Mead, Christopher J. Moore, Ulrich Sperhake, Michalis Agathos, Davide Gerosa.
Symmetry 12 (2020) 1384.
arXiv:2007.14429 [gr-qc]

July 15, 2020

Gravitational-wave selection effects using neural-network classifiers

And here is my latest lockdown effort: some experiments in the wonderful and perilous world of machine learning. The idea of this paper is to teach a computer to figure out by itself if a gravitational-wave signal will be detectable or not. The problem is very similar to that of image recognition: much like classifying if an image is more likely to contain a dog or a cat, here we classify black-hole mergers based on the imprints they have in the LIGO and Virgo detectors. This is important to quantify the so-called “selection effects”: in order to figure out what the Universe does based on what we observe, we need to know very well “how” we observe and thus what we are going to miss. Our code is built using Google’s TensorFlow and it is public on Github, feel free to play with it!

Davide Gerosa, Geraint Pratten, Alberto Vecchio.
Physical Review D 102 (2020) 103020.
arXiv:2007.06585 [astro-ph.HE]
Open-source code: homepage, repository.

June 12, 2020

Massive black hole binary inspiral and spin evolution in a cosmological framework

Supermassive black hole inspiral and spin evolution are deeply connected. In the early stages when black holes are brought together by star scattering and accretion, spin orientations can change because of interactions with the environment. Later on, when gravitational waves are driving the mergers, spins change because of relativistic couplings. In this paper we try to follow this complicated evolution in a full cosmological framework, using products of the Illustris simulation suite, a new sub-resolution model, and post-Newtonian integrations.

Mohammad Sayeb, Laura Blecha, Luke Zoltan Kelley, Davide Gerosa, Michael Kesden, July Thomas.
Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 501 (2020) 2531–2546.
arXiv:2006.06647 [astro-ph.GA].

May 20, 2020

Core collapse in massive scalar-tensor gravity

If General Relativity is too boring, couple it to something else. In this paper we study what happens to stellar collapse and supernova explosions if gravity is transmitted not only with the usual metric of Einstein’s theory (aka the graviton) but also an additional quantity. If this extra scalar field has a mass, it dramatically impacts the emitted gravitational waves… Which means that maybe, one day, one can use gravitational-wave data to figure out if scalar fields are coupled to gravity. Here we try to explore all the related phenomenology of stellar collapse with a large set of simulations covering the parameter space. And the overall picture is remarkably neat and simple!

Roxana Rosca-Mead, Ulrich Sperhake, Christopher J. Moore, Michalis Agathos, Davide Gerosa, Christian D. Ott.
Physical Review D 102 (2020) 044010.
arXiv:2005.09728 [gr-qc].

May 12, 2020

Astrophysical implications of GW190412 as a remnant of a previous black-hole merger

The latest news from our LIGO/Virgo friends (including some colleagues here in Birmingham) was an astrophysical surprise. The black-hole binary GW190412 is just different from every other one we have had so far. One of the two black holes is about three times larger than the other one, it’s spinning relatively fast, and that spin might even be misaligned with respect to the binary axis. That’s a lot of new things, which makes this event very challenging (but we like challenges!) to be explained with a coherent astrophysical setup. That’s what I meant by an astrophysical surprise. Today’s paper is our attempt to, first of all, quantify that GW190412 is indeed very unusual. Maybe it comes from a second-generation merger (that is, an event where one of the two black holes is the result of a previous merger). This might explain its features, but then the astrophysical host must be very unusual. So, yet another challenge.

Davide Gerosa, Salvatore Vitale, Emanuele Berti.
Physical Review Letters 125 (2020) 101103.
arXiv:2005.04243 [astro-ph.HE].
Press release: Birmingham, MIT.
Other press coverage: International Business Times, SciTechDaily, VRT (Dutch), notimerica (Spanish), allnewsbuzz, canaltech (Portuguese).

May 6, 2020

Mapping the asymptotic inspiral of precessing binary black holes to their merger remnants

A black-hole binary starts its life as two single black holes, and finish it as a single black hole. In between there’s all the complicated dynamics predicted by General Relativity: many orbits, dissipation of energy via gravitational waves, spins that complicate the whole business, and finally the merger which leaves behind a remnant. In this paper we put together different techniques to map this entire story beginning to end, connecting the two asymptotic conditions of a black-hole binary. This work started as a summer project of my student Luca: well done!

Luca Reali, Matthew Mould, Davide Gerosa, Vijay Varma.
Classical and Quantum Gravity 37 (2020) 225005.
arXiv:2005.01747 [gr-qc].

April 8, 2020

The Bardeen-Petterson effect in accreting supermassive black-hole binaries: a systematic approach

New paper today! We’ve been working on this for a very long time but three weeks of lockdown forced us to finish it. It’s about distorted (aka warped) accretion discs surrounding black holes. If the black hole is spinning and part of a binary system, the disc behaves in a funny way. First, it’s not planar but warped to accomodate these external disturbances. Second, disc and black hole interacts and tend to reach some mutual agreement where the disc is flat and the black-hole spin is aligned. We find it’s not that easy and things are actually much more complicated: read the paper to know more about non-linear fluid viscosities, critical obliquity, mass depletion, etc.

Davide Gerosa, Giovanni Rosotti, Riccardo Barbieri.
Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 496 (2020) 3060-3075.
arXiv:2004.02894 [astro-ph.GA].

ps. Here is a Twitter thread by P. Armitage.

April 3, 2020

The mass gap, the spin gap, and the origin of merging binary black holes

We’ve been knowing about the mass gap for a while, but I bet “spin gap” sounds new to you, uh? The gap in the spectrum of binary black hole masses is due to pair-instability supernovae (i.e. what happens if a giant ball of carbon and oxygen burns all at the same time). As for the spin gap, it might be that stars collapse into black holes which have a tiny tiny spin. But that’s only for black holes that come from stars: those come out of the merger of other black holes, on the other hand, are very rapidly rotating. So, there’s a gap between these two populations. Our paper today shows that, together, mass gap and spin gap are powerful tools to figure out where black holes come from. Cluster or field? Gaps will tell.

Vishal Baibhav, Davide Gerosa, Emanuele Berti, Kaze W. K. Wong, Thomas Helfer, Matthew Mould.
Physical Review D 102 (2020) 043002.
arXiv:2004.00650 [gr-qc].

March 16, 2020

IUPAP General Relativity and Gravitation Young Scientist Prize

I am the recipient of the 2020 IUPAP General Relativity and Gravitation Young Scientist Prize. The prize is awarded by the International Society on General Relativity and Gravitation (ISGRG) through its affiliation with the  International Union of Pure and Applied Physics  (IUPAP) to “recognize outstanding achievements of scientists at early stages of their career”.

The citation reads: “For his outstanding contributions to gravitational-wave astrophysics, including new tests of general relativity.

A huge thank you to all my supervisors and advisors who supported me in these past years. For more see the Birmingham press release, the Springer press release, and the IUPAP newsletter.

March 5, 2020

Endpoint of the up-down instability in precessing binary black holes

Sometimes you have to look into things twice. We found the up-down instability back in 2015 and still did not really understand what was going on. Three out of four black hole binaries with spins aligned to the orbital angular momentum are stable (in the sense that the spins stay aligned), but one is not. The impostors are the “up-down” black holes –binaries where the spin of the big black holes is aligned and the spin of the small black hole is antialigned. These guys are unstable to spin precession: small perturbation will trigger large precession cycles. Matt’s paper today figures out what’s the fate of these runaways. We find that these binaries become detectable in LIGO and LISA with very specific spin configurations: the two spins are aligned with each other and equally misaligned with the orbital angular momentum. There’s a lot of interesting maths in this draft (my first paper with a proof by contradiction!) as well as some astrophysics (for you, AGN disks lover).

Matthew Mould, Davide Gerosa.
Physical Review D 101 (2020) 124037.
arXiv:2003.02281 [gr-qc].
Supporting material available here.

February 26, 2020

Milky Way satellites shining bright in gravitational waves

The LISA data analysis problem is going to be massive: tons of simultaneous sources all together at the same time. In Birmingham we are developing a new scheme to tackle the problem, and here are the first outcomes. We populate satellite galaxies of the Milky Way with double white dwarfs and show that LISA… can actually do it! LISA will detect these guys, tell us which galaxies they come from, etc. It might even discover new small galaxies orbiting the Milky Way! Surprise, surprise, LISA is going to be amazing…

Elinore Roebber, Riccardo Buscicchio, Alberto Vecchio, Christopher J. Moore, Antoine Klein, Valeriya Korol, Silvia Toonen, Davide Gerosa, Janna Goldstein, Sebastian M. Gaebel, Tyrone E. Woods.
Astrophysical Journal Letters, 894 (2020) L15.
arXiv:2002.10465 [astro-ph.GA].

ps. Here is the first half of the story.
ps2. The code still needs a name. Suggestions?

February 26, 2020

Populations of double white dwarfs in Milky Way satellites and their detectability with LISA

The Milky Way, our own Galaxy, is not alone. We’re part of a galaxy cluster, but closer in we have some satellites. The bigger ones are the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds (which unfortunately I’ve never seen because they are in the southern hemisphere) but also other smaller ones: faint groups of stars in the outskirts of the Milky Way. Much like all galaxies, these faint satellites will have white dwarfs, those white dwarf will form binaries, which will be observable by LISA. There’s a new population of gravitational-wave sources there waiting to be discovered!

Valeriya Korol, Silvia Toonen, Antoine Klein, Vasily Belokurov, Fiorenzo Vincenzo, Riccardo Buscicchio, Davide Gerosa, Christopher J. Moore, Elinore Roebber, Elena M. Rossi, Alberto Vecchio.
Astronomy & Astrophysics 638 (2020) A153.
arXiv:2002.10462 [astro-ph.GA].

ps. The second half of the story is here.

January 28, 2020

Prospects for fundamental physics with LISA

LISA is going to be cool. And not just for your astro-related dreams. Theoretical physicists can have fun too! This community-wide manifesto illustrates just how cool things are going to be with LISA. LISA will constitute a major milestone to test gravity, cosmology, the nature of black holes, etc. A big thanks to all those involved.

Enrico Barausse, et al. (322 authors incl. Davide Gerosa).
General Relativity and Gravitation 52 (2020) 8, 81.
arXiv:2001.09793 [gr-qc].

December 13, 2019

Postdoc positions in our group

The Institute for Gravitational Wave Astronomy at the University of Birmingham, UK, invites applications for postdoctoral positions.

The Institute provides a vibrant and diverse environment with expertise covering theoretical and experimental gravitational-wave research, with applications to present and future-generation detectors, theoretical astrophysics, transient astronomy, gravitational-wave source modeling, and general relativity theory. Applications from top researchers in all areas related to gravitational-wave and transient astronomy are encouraged.

Institute faculty members include Andreas Freise, Davide Gerosa, Denis Martynov, Haixing Miao, Christopher Moore, Conor Mow-Lowry, Matt Nicholl, Patricia Schmidt, Silvia Toonen, and Alberto Vecchio.

One postdoctoral appointment is funded by the UK Leverhulme Trust (PI Dr. Davide Gerosa) and is focused on developing astrophysical and statistical predictions for the LISA space mission. The successful candidate will have ample opportunities to explore other areas of gravitational-wave astronomy as well.

Appointments will be for a three-year term starting in the Fall of 2020 and come with generous research and travel budget.

Applications should include a CV with a list of publications, and a two-page statement covering research interests and plans. Complete applications should be received by 27 January 2020 for full consideration. Applications should be sent to Ms. Joanne Cox at: [email protected].
Applicants should also arrange for 3 reference letters to be sent by 27 January 2020 to the same email address.

For further information and informal inquiries please contact Dr. Davide Gerosa ([email protected]) and Prof. Alberto Vecchio ([email protected]).

December 4, 2019

“Hitting this problem hard enough” on Scientific American

I was recently interviewed for Scientific American about my recent paper on multiple-generation black holes in stellar clusters. Here is the article: “Black Hole Factories May Hide at Cores of Giant Galaxies”. Very happy to be quoted saying “I don’t think we’ve been hitting this problem hard enough”. I think it’s a nice summary of scientific research –so much to discover!

November 20, 2019

ESA Voyage 2050

I was selected by the European Space Agency to join the Voyage 2050 Topical Teams. Voyage 2050 is ESA’s long-term programmatic plan to select scientific missions to be launched between 2035 and 2050. I am part of the review panel tasked to evaluate mission proposals focussed on “The Extreme Universe, including gravitational waves, black holes, and compact objects“.

November 1, 2019

PhD applications now open!

We’re accepting applications from prospective PhD students. The deadline is Dec 31, 2019 for positions starting in the Fall of 2020.

Here below is my project description:

Astrophysics and phenomenology of gravitational-wave sources with LIGO and LISA
This project concentrates on developing theoretical and astrophysical prediction s of gravitational-wave sources. The first observations of gravitational waves by LIGO have ushered us into the golden age of gravitational-wave discoveries. Thousands of new events are expected to be observed in the next few years as detectors reach their design sensitivities. Such large catalogs of gravitational-wave observations will open new, unprecedented opportunities in terms of both fundamental physics and astrophysics. Crucially, they will need to be faced with increasingly accurate predictions. First, among large catalogs, there will be “golden” events. We expect systems that, because of their properties, are particularly interesting to carry out some specific measurements (perhaps because of their favorable orientations, or because they are very massive, or very rapidly rotating, etc). Second, large catalogs need to be exploited with powerful statistical techniques. In the long run, future facilities like LISA will deliver new kinds of sources providing access to a whole new set of phenomena in both astrophysics and fundamental physics. New theoretical tools and techniques need to be developed (and immediately applied!) to maximize the scientific payoff of current and future gravitational-wave observatories.

October 28, 2019

GrEAT PhD winter school

This week I am organizing the GrEAT PhD winter school. GrEAT (which stands for Gravitational-wave Excellence through Alliance Training) is a synergy network between the UK and China. Our program features informal talks in the mornings and hands-on sessions in the afternoons, covering both theoretical and experimental gravitational-wave physics.

After the school in Birmingham, students will move on to various UK nodes to complete longer projects. In particular, Mingyue Zhou will stay here working with me.

October 6, 2019

Winter visitors

Two close collaborators will be visiting my group this winter.

Vijay Varma, postdoc at Caltech and expert of numerical relativity surrogate models, will be here on October 7-11. Get ready for his talk “Binary black hole simulations: from supercomputers to your laptop” (aka: Everything you ever wanted to know about waveform surrogates).

Giovanni Rosotti, Veni fellow in Leiden, will be here on November 4-15. He will also give a talk: The observational era of planet formation. What do planets have to do with black holes? Turns out some stages of their evolution are set by the same equations. We have a lot to learn from each other! Giovanni’s visit is supported by the GWverse COST Action (thanks EU!).

October 3, 2019

Amplification of superkicks in black-hole binaries through orbital eccentricity

Today’s paper is about superkicks. These are extreme configurations of black hole binaries which receive a large recoil. Black hole recoils work much like those of, say, a cannon. As the cannonball flies, the cannon recoils backwards. Here the binary is shooting gravitational waves: as they are emitted, the system recoils in the opposite direction. In this paper we show that superkicks might be up to 25% larger if the binary is mildly eccentric. This means it’s a bit easier to kick black holes out of stellar clusters and galaxies.

Ulrich Sperhake, Roxana Rosca-Mead, Davide Gerosa, Emanuele Berti.
Physical Review D 101 (2020) 024044.
arXiv:1910.01598 [gr-qc].

September 17, 2019

Machine-learning interpolation of population-synthesis simulations to interpret gravitational-wave observations: a case study

Gravitational-wave astronomy is, seems obvious to say, about doing astronomy with gravitational waves. One has gravitational-wave observations (thanks LIGO and Virgo!) on hand and astrophysical models on the other hand. The more closely these two sides interact, the more we can hope to use gravitational-wave data to learn about the astrophysics of the sources. Today’s paper with JHU student Kaze Wong tries to further stimulate this dialog. And, well, one needs to throw some artificial intelligence in the game. There are three players now (astrophysics, gravitational waves, and machine learning) and things get even more interesting.

Kaze W.K. Wong, Davide Gerosa.
Physical Review D 100 (2019) 083015.
arXiv:1909.06373 [astro-ph.HE].

ps. The nickname of this project was sigmaspops

September 13, 2019

Black holes in the low mass gap: Implications for gravitational wave observations

What’s in between neutron stars and black holes? It looks like neutron stars have a maximum mass of about 2 solar masses while black holes have a minimum mass of about 5. So what’s in between? That’s the popular issue of the ‘low mass gap’. Actually, now we know something must be in there. LIGO and Virgo have seen GW170817, a merger of two neutron stars, which merged in to a black hole with the right mass to populate the gap. Can this population be seen directly with (future) gravitational-wave detectors? That’s today’s paper.

Anuradha Gupta, Davide Gerosa, K. G. Arun, Emanuele Berti, Will Farr, B. S. Sathyaprakash.
Physical Review D 101 (2020) 103036.
arXiv:1909.05804 [gr-qc].

June 21, 2019

Summer research fun

This summer I’ll be working with two undergraduate research students. Luca Reali is finishing his master at my alma mater (University of Milan, Italy) and is visiting Birmingham with a scholarship from the HPC Europa 3 cluster. Daria Gangardt just finished her 3rd year in Birmingham. Their projects concentrate on spin effects in black hole binaries and the properties of merger remnants. Welcome Daria and Luca, hope you’ll have a very rewarding summer!

June 14, 2019

Escape speed of stellar clusters from multiple-generation black-hole mergers in the upper mass gap

Funny things happen in supernova explosions. Funny and complicated. If the star is too massive, the explosion is unstable. The black hole it formed it not as massive as it could have been. In gravitational-wave astronomy, this means that we should not observe black holes heavier than about 50 solar masses. This does not apply, of course, to black holes that are not formed from stars, but from other black holes (yes! more black holes!). If black holes resulting from older gravitational wave events somehow stick around, they could be recycled in other generations of mergers. We point out that this can work only if their astrophysical environment is dense enough. Can we measure the escape speed of black holes “nurseries” using gravitational-wave events that should not be there because of supernova instabilities?

Davide Gerosa, Emanuele Berti.
Physical Review D Rapid Communications 100 (2019) 041301R.
arXiv:1906.05295 [astro-ph.HE].
Press release: Birmingham.
Other press coverage: Scientific American, astrobites, interestingengineering, metro.co.uk, Media INAF (Italian), Great Lakes Ledger, sciencealert, sciencetimes, mic.com.

June 12, 2019

Gravitational-wave detection rates for compact binaries formed in isolation: LIGO/Virgo O3 and beyond.

LIGO and Virgo are up and running like crazy. They started their third observing run (O3) and in just a few months doubled the catalogs of observing events. And there’s so much more coming! In this paper we try to work out “how much” using our astrophysical models. Figure 4 is kind of shocking: we’re talking about thousands of black holes in a few years, and millions of them in 20 years. Need to figure out what to do with them…

Vishal Baibhav, Emanuele Berti, Davide Gerosa, Michela Mapelli, Nicola Giacobbo, Yann Bouffanais, Ugo N. Di Carlo.
Physical Review D 100 (2019) 064060.
arXiv:1906.04197 [gr-qc].

May 30, 2019

Are stellar-mass black-hole binaries too quiet for LISA?

Spoiler alert: this paper is a bit sad.

Stellar-mass black-hole binaries are now detected by LIGO on a weekly basis. It would be really cool if LISA (a future space mission targeting low-frequencies gravitational waves) could see them as well. We could do a lot of cool stuff, in both the astro and the theory side of things. In today’s paper, we try to figure out how easy or hard it will be to extract these signals from the LISA noise. Well, it’s hard. In terms of the minimum signal-to-noise ratio required, we find that this is as high as 15. The number of expected detection becomes discouragingly low unless the detector behaves a bit better at high frequencies or black holes with 100 solar masses start floating around.

Christopher J. Moore, Davide Gerosa, Antoine Klein.
Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society Letters 488 (2019) L94–L98.
arXiv:1905.11998 [astro-ph.HE].

May 28, 2019

Constraining the fraction of binary black holes formed in isolation and young star clusters with gravitational-wave data

Where do black holes come from? Sounds like a scify book title, but it’s real. These days, that’s actually the million dollar question in gravitational-wave astronomy. LIGO sees (lots of!) black holes in binaries, and those data encode information on how their stellar progenitors behave, what they like or did not like to do. This is paper is the latest attempt to understand if black holes formed alone (i.e. a single binary star forms a single binary black hole) or together (i.e. many stars exchange pairs in dense stellar environments).

Yann Bouffanais, Michela Mapelli, Davide Gerosa, Ugo N. Di Carlo, Nicola Giacobbo, Emanuele Berti, Vishal Baibhav.
Astrophysical Journal, 886 (2019) 25.
arXiv:1905.11054 [astro-ph.HE].

May 24, 2019

Surrogate models for precessing binary black hole simulations with unequal masses

Surrogate models are the best of both worlds. Numerical-relativity simulations are accurate but take forever. Waveform models have larger errors but can be computed cheaply, which means they can be used in the real world and compared with data. Surrogates are as fast as the approximate waform models, but as accurate as the numerical-relativity simulations they are trained on. Don’t believe me? I don’t blame you, this does sound impossible. Check out our new paper, where we pushed this effort to binaries with spins and more unequal masses.

Vijay Varma, Scott E. Field, Mark A. Scheel, Jonathan Blackman, Davide Gerosa, Leo C. Stein, Lawrence E. Kidder, Harald P. Pfeiffer.
Physical Review Research 1 (2019) 033015.
arXiv:1905.09300 [gr-qc].

February 4, 2019

Multiband gravitational-wave event rates and stellar physics

The prospect of multiband gravitational-wave astronomy is so so so exciting (I mean, really!). So exciting that we want to make sure once again it’s true; and this is today’s paper. Multiband means seeing the same black hole binary with both LIGO at high frequencies and LISA at low frequencies. LISA observations can serve as precursors for the LIGO mergers, and you can a whole lot of new science (astrophysics, tests of GR, smart data analysis, cosmology, etc). Here we have a new semi-analytic way to estimate the rate (i.e. how many) of multiband events, and we also explore some of the stellar physics one could constraint with them. Enjoy!

Davide Gerosa, Sizheng Ma, Kaze W.K. Wong, Emanuele Berti, Richard O’Shaughnessy, Yanbei Chen, Krzysztof Belczynski
Physical Review D 99 (2019) 103004.
arXiv:1902.00021 [astro-ph.HE].
Supporting material available here.

January 7, 2019

COST comes to California!

The COST action GWverse is an impressive network of European researchers and institutions tackling gravitational waves, black holes, etc (i.e. the things I like… sweet!). Together with conferences and outreach, they support collaborative visits between the network members, so here we come. Hey wait a minute, Caltech is kind of far from Europe isn’t it? Here’s the news: Caltech is now an international partner of GWverse, and we’re very happy to host European researchers who want to collaborate with us in sunny southern California.

We’re having our first visitors. Serguei Ossokine from the AEI, is here to work with me on a black-hole binary spin project. Yann Bouffanais from University of Padova (Italy) is coming to collaborate on formation channels.  Welcome Serguei and Yann, and thanks to COST for supporting our science!

November 15, 2018

The binary black hole explorer: on-the-fly visualizations of precessing binary black holes

As you can imagine, I’m kind of obsessed with black hole binaries. So easy (let’s face it, a black hole is easy! Just mass and spin), but at the same time so terribly complicated… Happy to present our attempt to see the binary dynamics in real time. Technical blah blah: we attach a visualization tool to a numerical relativity surrogate model. Are you ready to be a binary black hole explorer?

ps. Kids can have fun with black holes too! From mikesmathpage.

Vijay Varma, Leo C. Stein, Davide Gerosa.
Classical and Quantum Gravity 36 (2019) 9, 095007.
arXiv:1811.06552 [astro-ph.HE].
Supporting material available here.

November 14, 2018

Wide nutation: binary black-hole spins repeatedly oscillating from full alignment to full anti-alignment

Latest in the series of our spin-precession papers, here we found a thing that was worthy of a new name: wide nutation (we had wide precession before, but this is better). These are black-hole binary configurations where the angle between any of the two spins and the orbital angular momentum changes a lot. Can’t change more actually: spins goes from full alignment to full anti-alignment. And they do it many times.

ps. We found this wide precession during Alicia’s SURF undergraduate summer project at Caltech. Jackpot!

Davide Gerosa, Alicia Lima, Emanuele Berti, Ulrich Sperhake, Michael Kesden, Richard O’Shaughnessy.
Classical and Quantum Gravity 36 (2019) 10, 105003.
arXiv:1811.05979 [gr-qc].
Supporting material available here.

September 24, 2018

High-accuracy mass, spin, and recoil predictions of generic black-hole merger remnants

Black hole mergers are like a scattering problem. Two black holes come in, and one black hole comes out. The difference is a bunch of gravitational waves. Those are nice, of course, but the remnant black hole is important too! Here we provide accurate predictions of the mass, spin and kick of this remnant given the properties of the two merging black holes. If you need those numbers (want to build a waveform family? or test GR perhaps?) just use our python module surfinBH!


Bonus note. What if you collide ducks instead of black holes? 

Vijay Varma, Davide Gerosa, François Hébert, Leo C. Stein, Hao Zhang.
Physical Review Letters 122 (2019) 011101.
arXiv:1809.09125 [gr-qc]
Press release: CaltechOle Miss.
Other press coverage: Space Dailyphys.orglongroomtasnimeuropapress (Spanish), Media INAF (video in Italian).

September 13, 2018

Frequency-domain waveform approximants capturing Doppler shifts

We all know Doppler shifts, right? That’s like the biibouuubiiiiboouuuuuu of an ambulance. That happens to gravitational waves as well. Suppose you have a merging binary which is emitting gravitational waves (bibooou). If that binary is going somewhere (say it’s falling into the gravitational potential of a third body), much like the ambulance, the emitted signal will be Doppler shifted. This paper shows a very nice calculation to incorporate Doppler shifts into gravitational waves.

ps. This started out as Katie’s undergraduate summer project at Caltech. Congrats Katie!

Katie Chamberlain, Christopher J. Moore, Davide Gerosa, Nicolas Yunes.
Physical Review D 99 (2019) 024025.
arXiv:1809.04799 [gr-qc].