Exploring short gamma-ray bursts as gravitational-wave standard sirens

Samaya Nissanke, Daniel E. Holz, Scott A. Hughes, Neal Dalal, Jonathan L. Sievers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent observations support the hypothesis that a large fraction of "short-hard" gamma-ray bursts (SHBs) are associated with the inspiral and merger of compact binaries. Since gravitational-wave (GW) measurements of well-localized inspiraling binaries can measure absolute source distances, simultaneous observation of a binary's GWs and SHB would allow us to directly and independently determine both the binary's luminosity distance and its redshift. Such a "standard siren" (the GW analog of a standard candle) would provide an excellent probe of the nearby (z ≲ 0.3) universe's expansion, independent of the cosmological distance ladder, thereby complementing other standard candles. Previous work explored this idea using a simplified formalism to study measurement by advanced GW detector networks, incorporating a high signal-to-noise ratio limit to describe the probability distribution for measured parameters. In this paper, we eliminate this simplification, constructing distributions with a Markov Chain Monte Carlo technique. We assume that each SHB observation gives source sky position and time of coalescence, and we take non-spinning binary neutron star and black hole-neutron star coalescences as plausible SHB progenitors.We examine how well parameters (particularly distance) can be measured from GW observations of SHBs by a range of ground-based detector networks. We find that earlier estimates overstate how well distances can be measured, even at fairly large signal-to-noise ratio. The fundamental limitation to determining distance proves to be a degeneracy between distance and source inclination. Overcoming this limitation requires that we either break this degeneracy, or measure enough sources to broadly sample the inclination distribution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)496-514
Number of pages19
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 10 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Cosmology: theory
  • Distance scale
  • Gamma-ray burst: general
  • Gravitational waves Online-only material: color figures

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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