A generalized precession parameter xp to interpret gravitational-wave data

Davide Gerosa*, Matthew Mould, Daria Gangardt, Patricia Schmidt, Geraint Pratten, Lucy M. Thomas

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)
57 Downloads (Pure)


Originally designed for waveform approximants, the effective precession parameter χp is the most commonly used quantity to characterize spin-precession effects in gravitational-wave observations of black-hole binary coalescences. We point out that the current definition of χp retains some, but not all, variations taking place on the precession timescale. We rectify this inconsistency and propose more general definitions that either fully consider or fully average those oscillations. Our generalized parameter χp∈[0,2] presents an exclusive region χp>1 that can only be populated by binaries with two precessing spins. We apply our prescriptions to current LIGO/Virgo events and find that posterior distributions of χp tend to show longer tails at larger values. This appears to be a generic feature, implying that (i) current χp measurement errors might be underestimated, but also that (ii) evidence for spin precession in current data might be stronger than previously inferred. Among the gravitational-wave events released to date, that which shows the most striking behavior is GW190521.

Original languageEnglish
Article number064067
Number of pages12
JournalPhysical Review D
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Vishal Baibhav, Emanuele Berti, Riccardo Buscicchio, Michael Kesden, Christopher Moore, Richard O’Shaughnessy, Isobel Romero-Shaw, Nathan Steinle, Evangelos Stoikos, and Daniel Wysocki for discussions, constructive comments, and technical help. We thank the LIGO/Virgo Collaboration and the authors of Ref. for their public data releases. We thank Katerina Chatziioannou and the authors of Ref. for sharing their posterior samples with us. D. Ger., M. M., and D. Gan. are supported by European Union H2020 ERC Starting Grant No. 945155-GWmining and Royal Society Grant No. RGS-R2-202004. D. Ger. is supported by Leverhulme Trust Grant No. RPG-2019-350. M. M., D. Gan., and L. M. T. are supported by the STFC and the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Birmingham. P. S. is supported by Dutch Research Council (NWO) Veni Grant No. 680-47-460. Computational work was performed on the University of Birmingham BlueBEAR cluster, the Athena cluster at HPC by EPSRC Grant No. EP/P020232/1, and the Maryland Advanced Research Computing Center (MARCC).

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physics and Astronomy (miscellaneous)


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