The effect of pair-instability mass loss on black-hole mergers

K. Belczynski, Alexander Heger, W. Gladysz, Ashley J Ruiter, Stanford E Woosley, G. Wiktorowicz, Hai Yong Chen, Tomasz Bulik, Richard O'Shaughnessy, Daniel E Holz, Chris Fryer, E. Berti

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Context. Mergers of two stellar-origin black holes are a prime source of gravitational waves and are under intensive investigation. One crucial ingredient in their modeling has been neglected: pair-instability pulsation supernovae with associated severe mass loss may suppress the formation of massive black holes, decreasing black-hole-merger rates for the highest black-hole masses. 

Aims. We demonstrate the effects of pair-instability pulsation supernovae on merger rate and mass using populations of double black-hole binaries formed through the isolated binary classical evolution channel. 

Methods. The mass loss from pair-instability pulsation supernova is estimated based on existing hydrodynamical calculations. This mass loss is incorporated into the StarTrack population synthesis code. StarTrack is used to generate double black-hole populations with and without pair-instability pulsation supernova mass loss. 

Results. The mass loss associated with pair-instability pulsation supernovae limits the Population I/II stellar-origin black-hole mass to 50 M, in tension with earlier predictions that the maximum black-hole mass could be as high as 100 M. In our model, neutron stars form with mass 1-2 M. We then encounter the first mass gap at 2-5 M with the compact object absence due to rapid supernova explosions, followed by the formation of black holes with mass 5-50 M, with a second mass gap at 50-135 M created by pair-instability pulsation supernovae and by pair-instability supernovae. Finally, black holes with masses above 135 M may potentially form to arbitrarily high mass limited only by the extent of the initial mass function and the strength of stellar winds. Suppression of double black-hole-merger rates by pair-instability pulsation supernovae is negligible for our evolutionary channel. Our standard evolutionary model, with the inclusion of pair-instability pulsation supernovae and pair-instability supernovae, is fully consistent with the Laser Interferometric Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) observations of black-hole mergers: GW150914, GW151226, and LVT151012. The LIGO results are inconsistent with high (≥ 400 km s-1) black hole (BH) natal kicks. We predict the detection of several, and up to as many as ~60, BH-BH mergers with a total mass of 10-150 M (most likely range: 20-80 M) in the forthcoming ~60 effective days of the LIGO O2 observations, assuming the detectors reach the optimistic target O2 sensitivity.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberA97
Number of pages10
JournalAstronomy & Astrophysics
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2016


  • Black hole physics
  • Gravitational waves
  • Stars: massive

Cite this

Belczynski, K., Heger, A., Gladysz, W., Ruiter, A. J., Woosley, S. E., Wiktorowicz, G., Chen, H. Y., Bulik, T., O'Shaughnessy, R., Holz, D. E., Fryer, C., & Berti, E. (2016). The effect of pair-instability mass loss on black-hole mergers. Astronomy & Astrophysics, 594, [A97].