Accuracy of inference on the physics of binary evolution from gravitational-wave observations

Jim W. Barrett, Sebastian M. Gaebel, Coenraad Neijssel, Alejandro Vigna Gomez, Simon Stevenson, Christopher P. L. Berry, Will Meierjurgen Farr, Ilya Mandel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


The properties of the population of merging binary black holes encode some of the uncertain physics underlying the evolution of massive stars in binaries. The binary black hole merger rate and chirp-mass distribution are being measured by ground-based gravitational-wave detectors. We consider isolated binary evolution, and explore how accurately the physical model can be constrained with such observations by applying the Fisher information matrix to the merging black hole population simulated with the rapid binary-population synthesis code COMPAS. We investigate variations in four COMPAS parameters: common-envelope efficiency, kickvelocity dispersion and mass-loss rates during the luminous blue variable, and Wolf–Rayet stellar-evolutionary phases. We find that ∼1000 observations would constrain these model parameters to a fractional accuracy of a few per cent. Given the empirically determined binary black hole merger rate, we can expect gravitational-wave observations alone to place strong constraints on the physics of stellar and binary evolution within a few years. Our approach can be extended to use other observational data sets; combining observations at different evolutionary stages will lead to a better understanding of stellar and binary physics.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4685–4695
Number of pages11
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • stars: black holes
  • stars: evolution
  • black hole physics
  • gravitational waves

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