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Gravitational-Wave Limits from Pulsar Timing Constrain Supermassive Black Hole Evolution


The formation and growth processes of supermassive black holes (SMBHs) are not well constrained. SMBH population models, however, provide specific predictions for the properties of the gravitational-wave background (GWB) from binary SMBHs in merging galaxies throughout the universe. Using observations from the Parkes Pulsar Timing Array, we constrain the fractional GWB energy density (Ω(GW)) with 95% confidence to be Ω(GW)(H0/73 kilometers per second per megaparsec)(2) < 1.3 × 10(-9) (where H0 is the Hubble constant) at a frequency of 2.8 nanohertz, which is approximately a factor of 6 more stringent than previous limits. We compare our limit to models of the SMBH population and find inconsistencies at confidence levels between 46 and 91%. For example, the standard galaxy formation model implemented in the Millennium Simulation Project is inconsistent with our limit with 50% probability.

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