Space-based gravitational-wave astronomy in the next decade, with a coda of statistics
December 01, 2011
Abstract: The low-frequency band between 0.1 mHz and 1 Hz, targeted by space-based interferometric gravitational-wave detectors, is populated by thousands of detectable astrophysical sources, which will enable many exciting investigations: exploring hierarchical galaxy formation scenarios, sampling the strong-field regime of general-relativistic dynamics, taking a census of Galactic compact binaries, characterizing the nature of the massive objects at galactic centers, and much more. This band was to be the target of the joint NASA-ESA interferometric detector LISA, but NASA budget woes have recently led the two agencies to terminate their collaboration; LISA is now under study as a European-led mission with reduced cost and scope. I discuss LISA’s programmatic prospects, and argue that a variety of mission designs analog to LISA can bring home a remarkably valuable scientific bounty. As a coda for the statistically inclined, I present a novel, computationally efficient method to map the distribution of the maximum-likelihood parameters for signals detected in Gaussian noise. This method can be applied to problems of experimental design and to the fine-tuning of MCMC searches, in the context of gravitational-wave astronomy, but not only.