Evidence for primordial black holes in LIGO/Virgo gravitational-wave data
10. May 2021
G. Franciolini, V. Baibhav, V. De Luca, K. Ng, K. Wong, E. Berti, P. Pani, A. Riotto, S. Vitale (2021) [arXiv:2102.03349].
With approximately 50 binary black hole events detected by LIGO/Virgo to date and many more expected in the next few years, gravitational-wave astronomy is shifting from individual-event analyses to population studies aimed at understanding the formation scenarios of these sources. There is strong evidence that the black hole mergers detected so far belong to multiple formation channels. We perform a hierarchical Bayesian analysis on the GWTC-2 catalog using a combination of ab-initio astrophysical formation models (including common envelope, globular clusters, and nuclear star clusters) as well as a realistic population of primordial black holes formed in the early universe. The evidence for a primordial population is decisively favored compared to the null hypothesis and the inferred fraction of primordial black holes in the current data is estimated at 0.27+0.28−0.24 (90% credible interval), a figure which is robust against different assumptions on the astrophysical populations. The primordial formation channel can explain events in the upper mass gap such as GW190521, which are in tension with astrophysical formation scenarios. Our results suggest the tantalizing possibility that LIGO/Virgo may have already detected black holes formed after inflation. This conclusion can ultimately be confirmed in the era of third-generation interferometers.