Impact of Bayesian Priors on the Characterization of Binary Black Hole Coalescences

Salvatore Vitale, Davide Gerosa, Carl-Johan Haster, Katerina Chatziioannou, Aaron Zimmerman

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In a regime where data are only mildly informative, prior choices can play a significant role in Bayesian statistical inference, potentially affecting the inferred physics. We show this is indeed the case for some of the parameters inferred from current gravitational-wave measurements of binary black hole coalescences. We reanalyze the first detections performed by the twin LIGO interferometers using alternative (and astrophysically motivated) prior assumptions. We find different prior distributions can introduce deviations in the resulting posteriors that impact the physical interpretation of these systems. For instance, (i) limits on the 90% credible interval on the effective black hole spin χeff are subject to variations of ̃10 % if a prior with black hole spins mostly aligned to the binary's angular momentum is considered instead of the standard choice of isotropic spin directions, and (ii) under priors motivated by the initial stellar mass function, we infer tighter constraints on the black hole masses, and in particular, we find no support for any of the inferred masses within the putative mass gap M ≲5 M.
Original languageEnglish
Article number251103
JournalPhysical Review Letters
Issue number25
Publication statusPublished - 20 Dec 2017


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