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Published June 15, 1994 | public
Journal Article Open

Spin-induced orbital precession and its modulation of the gravitational waveforms from merging binaries


Merging compact binaries are currently regarded as the most promising source of gravitational waves for the planned Earth-based LIGO/VIRGO laser-interferometer detector system, and will be an important source also for similar, lower-frequency detectors that might be flown in space (e.g., the proposed LISA mission). During the orbital inspiral, if one or both bodies are rapidly rotating, the general relativistic spin-orbit and spin-spin coupling (i.e., the "dragging of inertial frames" by the bodies' spins) cause the binary's orbital plane to precess. In this paper we analyze the resulting modulation of the inspiral gravitational waveform, using post2-Newtonian equations to describe the precession of the orbital plane, but only the leading-order (Newtonian, quadrupole-moment approximation) equations to describe the orbit, the radiation reaction, the inspiral, and the wave generation. We derive all the formulas one needs to readily compute the spin-modulated gravitational waveform (within the post-Newtonian approximation and the approximation that the precession frequency is much smaller than the orbital frequency). We also develop intuition into what the modulated signals "look like," by a variety of means. We provide approximate, analytical solutions for the precessional motion and the modulated waveforms for two important special cases: the case where the bodies have nearly equal masses and the case where one of the bodies has negligible spin. For these cases, for almost all choices of binary parameters, the motion is a simple precession of the orbital angular momentum around the nearly fixed direction of the total angular momentum, with a few tens of precession periods as the waves sweep through the LIGO/VIRGO observational band. However, when the spin and orbital angular momenta are approximately anti-aligned, there is a transitional-precession epoch during which their near cancellation causes the binary to "lose its gyroscopic bearings" and tumble in space, with a corresponding peculiar sweep of the waveform modulation. We also explore numerically the precessional behaviors that occur for general masses and spins; these typically appear quite similar to our special-case, simple-precession, and transitional-precession solutions. An Appendix develops several diagrammatic aids for understanding intuitively the relation between the precessing orbit and the modulated waveform.

Additional Information

¬©1994 The American Physical Society Received 16 February 1994 We thank √Čanna Flanagan for helpful conversations. The orbital-precession and wave-generation aspects of this research were supported in part by NSF Grant AST-9114925 and, in view of its application to proposed detectors in space, by NASA Grant NAGW-2897. The application to ground-based gravitational-wave detection was supported in part by NSF Grant PHY-9213508. The last several months of Cutler's contribution to this work were supported by Grant AST-9119475 at Cornell University.


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