Large-Scale surveys for continuous gravitational waves: from data preparation to multi-stage hierarchical follow-ups

authored by
Benjamin Steltner
supervised by
Maria Alessandra Papa

The gravitational wave event GW150914 was the first direct detection of gravitational waves roughly 100 years after their prediction by Albert Einstein. The detection was a breakthrough, opening another channel to observe the Universe. Since then over 90 detections of merging compact objects have been made, most of them coalescences of binary black holes of different masses. There have been two black hole-neutron star, and two binary neutron-star mergers. Another breakthrough was the first binary neutron-star merger, GW170817, associated with a slew of electromagnetic observations, including a gamma-ray burst 1.7s after the merger. Compact binary coalescence events are cataclysmic events in which multiple solar masses are emitted in gravitational waves in ~seconds. Still, their gravitational wave detection requires sophisticated measuring devices: kilometer-scale laser interferometers. Another not yet detected form of gravitational radiation are continuous gravitational waves from e.g., but not limited to, fast-spinning neutron stars nonaxisymmetric relatively to their rotational axis. The gravitational wave amplitude on Earth is orders of magnitude weaker than the compact binary coalescence events, but, in the case of the nonaxisymmetric neutron star, is emitted as long as the neutron star is spinning and sustaining the deformation, which may be months to years. The gravitational wave is mostly emitted at twice the rotational frequency, with a possible frequency evolution (spin-down) due to the energy emitted by gravitational waves, as well as other braking mechanisms. This nearly monochromatic continuous wave is received by observers on Earth Doppler modulated by Earth's orbit and spin. Although the waveform is seemingly simple, the detection problem for signals from unknown sources is very challenging. The all-sky search for unknown neutron stars in our galaxy detailed in this work used the volunteer distributed computing project Einstein@Home and the ATLAS supercomputer for several months, taking tens of thousands of total CPU-time years to complete. In this work I describe the full-scale data analysis procedure, including data preparation, search set-up optimization and post-processing of search results, whose design and implementation is the core of my doctoral research work. I also present a number of observational results that demonstrate the real-world application of the methodologies that I designed.

QUEST-Leibniz Research School
Doctoral thesis
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