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Published February 10, 2022 | Submitted + Published
Journal Article Open

Probing Extremal Gravitational-wave Events with Coarse-grained Likelihoods


As catalogs of gravitational-wave transients grow, new records are set for the most extreme systems observed to date. The most massive observed black holes probe the physics of pair-instability supernovae while providing clues about the environments in which binary black hole systems are assembled. The least massive black holes, meanwhile, allow us to investigate the purported neutron star–black hole mass gap, and binaries with unusually asymmetric mass ratios or large spins inform our understanding of binary and stellar evolution. Existing outlier tests generally implement leave-one-out analyses, but these do not account for the fact that the event being left out was by definition an extreme member of the population. This results in a bias in the evaluation of outliers. We correct for this bias by introducing a coarse-graining framework to investigate whether these extremal events are true outliers or whether they are consistent with the rest of the observed population. Our method enables us to study extremal events while testing for population model misspecification. We show that this ameliorates biases present in the leave-one-out analyses commonly used within the gravitational-wave community. Applying our method to results from the second LIGO–Virgo transient catalog, we find qualitative agreement with the conclusions of Abbott et al. GW190814 is an outlier because of its small secondary mass. We find that neither GW190412 nor GW190521 is an outlier.

Additional Information

© 2022. The Author(s). Published by the American Astronomical Society. Original content from this work may be used under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 licence. Any further distribution of this work must maintain attribution to the author(s) and the title of the work, journal citation and DOI. Received 2021 September 1; revised 2021 November 5; accepted 2021 November 11; published 2022 February 9. The authors thank Will Farr, Tom Callister, and Katerina Chatziioannou for several helpful discussions. R.E. thanks the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) for support. Research at Perimeter Institute is supported in part by the Government of Canada through the Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada and by the Province of Ontario through the Ministry of Colleges and Universities. S.G. and E.T. are supported through Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence CE170100004. A.F. is supported by the NSF Research Traineeship program under grant DGE-1735359. M.F. is supported by NASA through NASA Hubble Fellowship grant HST-HF2-51455.001-A awarded by the Space Telescope Science Institute. D.E.H. is supported by NSF grants PHY-2006645, PHY-2011997, and PHY-2110507, as well as by the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics through an endowment from the Kavli Foundation and its founder Fred Kavli. D.E.H. also gratefully acknowledges the Marion and Stuart Rice Award. This material is based on work supported by NSF LIGO Laboratory, which is a major facility fully funded by the National Science Foundation. The authors are grateful for computational resources provided by the LIGO Laboratory and supported by National Science Foundation grants PHY-0757058 and PHY-0823459.

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Submitted - 2109.00418.pdf

Published - Essick_2022_ApJ_926_34.pdf


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Additional details

August 22, 2023
August 22, 2023