Recognizing black holes in gravitational-wave observations: Challenges in telling apart impostors in mass-gap binaries

Sayak Datta, Khun Sang Phukon, Sukanta Bose

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


We study how by careful monitoring of the presence or absence of tidal deformability (TD) and tidal-heating (TH) in the inspiral signal of compact object binaries in ground-based gravitational wave (GW) detectors, one can test if its components are black holes or not. The former property (TD) is finite for neutron stars but vanishes for black holes (in general relativity), whereas the latter is finite for black holes and negligible for neutron stars, and affects the GW phase evolution of binaries in a distinctly different way. We introduce waveform parameters that characterize the strength of tidal-heating and are zero when there is no horizon. We develop Bayesian methods that use TD and TH for distinguishing the presence or absence of horizons in a binary. This is timely owing to several claims that these stellar-mass objects, especially, with masses heavier than those of neutron stars, may not have a horizon but may be black hole mimickers or exotic compact objects (ECOs). It is also astrophysically important to have the tools to test the presence or absence of horizons in mass-gap binaries and, thereby, help detect the heaviest neutron star or the lightest black hole. A proper accounting of tidal-heating in binary waveform models will also be critical for an unbiased measurement of characteristics of the equation of state of neutron stars in GW observations of binaries containing them—or even to probe the existence of ECOs. We show that purely based on GW waveforms it will not be possible to discern binary horizons in the mass gap in Advanced LIGO, Virgo and KAGRA detectors unless the binary is within a few tens of Mpc. However, third generation ground-based detectors will be able to do so for binaries a few hundred Mpc away.
Original languageEnglish
Article number084006
Pages (from-to)1-12
JournalPhysical Review D
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2021


  • General relativity
  • Gravitation
  • Gravitational waves


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