What are the properties of accretion flows in the vicinity of coalescing supermassive black holes (SBHs)? The answer to this question has direct implications on the feasibility of coincident detections of electromagnetic (EM) and gravitational wave (GW) signals from coalescences. Such detections are considered to be the next observational grand challenge that will enable testing general relativity in the strong, nonlinear regime and improve our understanding of evolution and growth of these massive compact objects. In this paper, we review the properties of the environment of coalescing binaries in the context of the circumbinary disk and hot, radiatively inefficient accretion flow models and use them to mark the extent of the parameter space spanned by this problem. We report the results from an ongoing, general relativistic, hydrodynamical study of the inspiral and merger of black holes, motivated by the latter scenario. We find that correlated EM+GW oscillations can arise during the inspiral phase followed by the gradual rise and subsequent drop-off in the light curve at the time of coalescence. While there are indications that the latter EM signature is a more robust one, a detection of either signal coincidentally with GWs would be a convincing evidence for an impending SBH binary coalescence. The observability of an EM counterpart in the hot accretion flow scenario depends on the details of a model. In the case of the most massive binaries observable by the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna, upper limits on luminosity imply that they may be identified by EM searches out to z ≈ 0.1-1. However, given the radiatively inefficient nature of the gas flow, we speculate that a majority of massive binaries may appear as low luminosity AGN in the local universe.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Physics and Astronomy (miscellaneous)