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Conference Paper

Low-Frequency Sources of Gravitational Waves: A Tutorial


Schutz,  Bernard F.
Astrophysical Relativity, AEI-Golm, MPI for Gravitational Physics, Max Planck Society;
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Schutz, B. F. (1997). Low-Frequency Sources of Gravitational Waves: A Tutorial. In Österreich / Bundesministerium für Wissenschaft und Verkehr / (Ed.), Fundamental physics in space: proceedings of the Alpbach Summer School 1997. Noordwijk, The Netherlands: ESA Publications Division.

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Gravitational wave detectors in space, particularly the LISA project, can study a rich variety of astronomical systems whose gravitational radiation is not detectable from the ground, because it is emitted in the low-frequency gravitational wave band (0.1 mHz to 1 Hz) that is inaccessible to ground-based detectors. Sources include binary systems in our Galaxy and massive black holes in distant galaxies. The radiation from many of these sources will be so strong that it will be possible to make remarkably detailed studies of the physics of the systems. These studies will have importance both for astrophysics (most notably in binary evolution theory and models for active galaxies) and for fundamental physics. In particular, it should be possible to make decisive measurements to confirm the existence of black holes and to test, with accuracies better than 1%, general relativity's description of them. Other observations can have fundamental implications for cosmology and for physical theories of the unification of forces. In order to understand these conclusions, one must know how to estimate the gravitational radiation produced by different sources. In the first part of this lecture I review the dynamics of gravitational wave sources, and I derive simple formulas for estimating wave amplitudes and the reaction effects on sources of producing this radiation. With these formulas one can estimate, usually to much better than an order of magnitude, the physics of most of the interesting low-frequency sources. In the second part of the lecture I use these estimates to discuss, in the context of the expected sensitivity of LISA, what we can learn by from observations of binary systems, massive black holes, and the early Universe itself.