Constraining the lensing of binary black holes from their stochastic background

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Gravitational waves (GWs) are subject to gravitational lensing in the same way as electromagnetic radiation. However, to date, no unequivocal observation of a lensed GW transient has been reported. Independently, GW observatories continue to search for the stochastic GW signal that is produced by many transient events at high redshift. We exploit a surprising connection between the lensing of individual transients and limits to the background radiation produced by the unresolved population of binary back hole mergers: we show that it constrains the fraction of individually resolvable lensed binary black holes to less than ∼4 × 10−5 at present sensitivity. We clarify the interpretation of existing, low redshift GW observations (obtained assuming no lensing) in terms of their apparent lensed redshifts and masses and explore constraints from GW observatories at future sensitivity. Based on our results, recent claims of observations of lensed events are statistically disfavored.
Original languageEnglish
Article number141102
Number of pages6
JournalPhysical Review Letters
Issue number14
Early online date30 Sept 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2 Oct 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors thank Davide Gerosa and Graham P. Smith for useful comments. R. B. thanks Will M. Farr, Thomas Callister, and Katerina Chatziioannou for fruitful discussions. A. V. acknowledges the support of the Royal Society and Wolfson Foundation. P. S. acknowledges NWO Veni Grant No. 680-47-460. Computational work was performed using the University of Birmingham’s BlueBEAR HPC service.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 American Physical Society.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Physics and Astronomy


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