Pulsar Timing Array Constraints on the Merger Timescale of Subparsec Supermassive Black Hole Binary Candidates

Khai Nguyen, Tamara Bogdanović, Jessie C. Runnoe, Stephen R. Taylor, Alberto Sesana, Michael Eracleous, Steinn Sigurdsson

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7 Scopus citations


We estimate the merger timescale of spectroscopically selected, subparsec supermassive black hole binary (SMBHB) candidates by comparing their expected contribution to the gravitational-wave background (GWB) with the sensitivity of current pulsar timing array (PTA) experiments and in particular, with the latest upper limit placed by the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves. We find that the average timescale to coalescence of such SMBHBs is «tevol» > 6 × 104 yr, assuming that their orbital evolution in the PTA frequency band is driven by emission of gravitational waves. If some fraction of SMBHBs do not reside in spectroscopically detected active galaxies, and their incidence in active and inactive galaxies is similar, then the merger timescale could be ∼10 times longer, «tevol» > 6 × 105 yr. These limits are consistent with the range of timescales predicted by theoretical models and imply that all the SMBHB candidates in our spectroscopic sample could be binaries without violating the observational constraints on the GWB. This result illustrates the power of the multimessenger approach, facilitated by the PTAs, in providing an independent statistical test of the nature of SMBHB candidates discovered in electromagnetic searches.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberL42
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number2
StatePublished - Sep 10 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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