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Find the Gap: Black Hole Population Analysis with an Astrophysically Motivated Mass Function

Baxter, Eric J. and Croon, Djuna and McDermott, Samuel D. and Sakstein, Jeremy (2021) 'Find the Gap: Black Hole Population Analysis with an Astrophysically Motivated Mass Function.', The Astrophysical Journal Letters, 916 (2). L16.


We introduce a novel black hole mass function that realistically models the physics of pair-instability supernovae with a minimal number of parameters. Applying this to all events in the LIGO-Virgo Gravitational-Wave Transient Catalog 2 (GWTC-2), we detect a peak at ${M}_{\mathrm{BHMG}}={46}_{-6}^{+17}\,{M}_{\odot }$. Repeating the analysis without the black holes from the event GW190521, we find this feature at MBHMG = 54 ± 6 M⊙. These results establish the edge of the anticipated "black hole mass gap" at a value compatible with the expectation from standard stellar structure theory. The mass gap manifests itself as a discontinuity in the mass function and is populated by a distinct, less-abundant population of higher-mass black holes. We find that the primary black hole population scales with power-law index −1.95 ± 0.51 (−1.97 ± 0.44) with (without) GW190521, consistent with models of star formation. Using Bayesian techniques, we establish that our mass function fits a new catalog of black hole masses approximately as well as pre-existing phenomenological mass functions. We also remark on the implications of these results for constraining or discovering new phenomena in nuclear and particle physics.

Item Type:Article
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Publisher statement:© 2021. The American Astronomical Society. All rights reserved.
Date accepted:07 July 2021
Date deposited:14 October 2021
Date of first online publication:30 July 2021
Date first made open access:14 October 2021

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