Populations of double white dwarfs in Milky Way satellites and their detectability with LISA

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Context. Milky Way dwarf satellites are unique objects that encode the early structure formation and therefore represent a window into the high redshift Universe. So far, their study has been conducted using electromagnetic waves only. The future Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) has the potential to reveal Milky Way satellites through gravitational waves emitted by double white dwarf (DWD) binaries.

Aims. We investigate gravitational wave signals that will be detectable by LISA as a possible tool for the identification and characterisation of the Milky Way satellites.
Methods. We used the binary population synthesis technique to model the population of DWDs in dwarf satellites and we assessed the impact on the number of LISA detections when making changes to the total stellar mass, distance, star formation history, and metallicity of satellites. We calibrated predictions for the known Milky Way satellites on their observed properties.

Results. We find that DWDs emitting at frequencies ≳3 mHz can be detected in Milky Way satellites at large galactocentric distances. The number of these high frequency DWDs per satellite primarily depends on its mass, distance, age, and star formation history, and only mildly depends on the other assumptions regarding their evolution such as metallicity. We find that dwarf galaxies with M⋆ >  106 M⊙ can host detectable LISA sources; the number of detections scales linearly with the satellite’s mass. We forecast that out of the known satellites, Sagittarius, Fornax, Sculptor, and the Magellanic Clouds can be detected with LISA.

Conclusions. As an all-sky survey that does not suffer from contamination and dust extinction, LISA will provide observations of the Milky Way and dwarf satellites galaxies, which will be valuable for Galactic archaeology and near-field cosmology.

Bibliographic note

9 pages, 6 figures


Original languageEnglish
Article numberA153
Number of pages10
JournalAstronomy and Astrophysics
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jun 2020


  • gravitational waves, binaries: close, white dwarfs, galaxies: dwarf, Local Group, Magellanic Clouds, Gravitational waves, Binaries: close, White dwarfs, Galaxies: dwarf