Accuracy of binary black hole waveform models for aligned-spin binaries

Research paper by Prayush Kumar, Tony Chu, Heather Fong, Harald P. Pfeiffer, Michael Boyle, Daniel A. Hemberger, Lawrence E. Kidder, Mark A. Scheel, Bela Szilagyi

Indexed on: 28 Jan '16Published on: 28 Jan '16Published in: General Relativity and Quantum Cosmology


Coalescing binary black holes are among the primary science targets for second generation ground-based gravitational wave (GW) detectors. Reliable GW models are central to detection of such systems and subsequent parameter estimation. This paper performs a comprehensive analysis of the accuracy of recent waveform models for binary black holes with aligned spins, utilizing a new set of $84$ high-accuracy numerical relativity simulations. Our analysis covers comparable mass binaries ($1\le m_1/m_2\le 3$), and samples independently both black hole spins up to dimensionless spin-magnitude of $0.9$ for equal-mass binaries and $0.85$ for unequal mass binaries. Furthermore, we focus on the high-mass regime (total mass $\gtrsim 50M_\odot$). The two most recent waveform models considered (PhenomD and SEOBNRv2) both perform very well for signal detection, losing less than 0.5\% of the recoverable signal-to-noise ratio $\rho$, except that SEOBNRv2's efficiency drops mildly for both black hole spins aligned with large magnitude. For parameter estimation, modeling inaccuracies of SEOBNRv2 are found to be smaller than systematic uncertainties for moderately strong GW events up to roughly $\rho\lesssim 15$. PhenomD's modeling errors are found to be smaller than SEOBNRv2's, and are generally irrelevant for $\rho\lesssim 20$. Both models' accuracy deteriorates with increased mass-ratio, and when at least one black hole spin is large and aligned. The SEOBNRv2 model shows a pronounced disagreement with the numerical relativity simulation in the merger phase, for unequal masses and simultaneously both black hole spins very large and aligned. Two older waveform models (PhenomC and SEOBNRv1) are found to be distinctly less accurate than the more recent PhenomD and SEOBNRv2 models. Finally, we quantify the bias expected from all GW models during parameter estimation for recovery of binary's masses and spins.