Optimizing pulsar timing arrays to maximize gravitational wave single-source detection: A first cut

Brian J. Burt, Andrea N. Lommen, Lee S. Finn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Pulsar Timing Arrays (PTAs) use high accuracy timing of a collection of low timing noise pulsars to search for gravitational waves (GWs) in the microhertz to nanohertz frequency band. The sensitivity of such a PTA depends on (1) the direction of the GW source, (2) the timing accuracy of the pulsars in the array, and (3) how the available observing time is allocated among those pulsars. Here, we present a simple way to calculate the sensitivity of the PTA as a function of direction of a single GW source, based only on the location and root-mean-square residual of the pulsars in the array. We use this calculation to suggest future strategies for the current North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves PTA in its goal of detecting single GW sources. We also investigate the effects of an additional pulsar on the array sensitivity, with the goal of suggesting where PTA pulsar searches might be best directed. We demonstrate that, in the case of single GW sources, if we are interested in maximizing the volume of space to which PTAs are sensitive, there exists a slight advantage to finding a new pulsar near where the array is already most sensitive. Further, the study suggests that more observing time should be dedicated to the already low-noise pulsars in order to have the greatest positive effect on the PTA sensitivity. We have made a Web-based sensitivity mapping tool available.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number17
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 20 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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