Nonlinear gravitational-wave memory from binary black hole mergers

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Some astrophysical sources of gravitational waves can produce a "memory effect," which causes a permanent displacement of the test masses in a freely falling gravitational-wave detector. The Christodoulou memory is a particularly interesting nonlinear form of memory that arises from the gravitational-wave stress-energy tensor's contribution to the distant gravitational-wave field. This nonlinear memory contributes a nonoscillatory component to the gravitational-wave signal at leading (Newtonian-quadrupole) order in the waveform amplitude. Previous computations of the memory and its detectability considered only the inspiral phase of binary black hole coalescence. Using an "effective-one-body" (EOB) approach calibrated to numerical relativity simulations, as well as a simple fully analytic model, the Christodoulou memory is computed for the inspiral, merger, and ringdown. The memory will be very difficult to detect with ground-based interferometers, but is likely to be observable in supermassive black hole mergers with LISA out to redshifts z ≲ 2. Detection of the nonlinear memory could serve as an experimental test of the ability of gravity to "gravitate."

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)L159-L162
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2 PART 2
StatePublished - 2009


  • Black hole physics
  • Gravitation
  • Gravitational waves
  • Relativity


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