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Gravitational waves (GWs) are tiny ripples in the fabric of space time predicted by Einstein's general relativity. Pulsar timing arrays (PTAs) are well poised to detect low-frequency (10-9-10-7 Hz) GWs in the near future. There has been a significant amount of research into the detection of a stochastic background of GWs from supermassive black hole binaries (SMBHBs). Recent work has shown that single continuous sources standing out above the background may be detectable by PTAs operating at a sensitivity sufficient to detect the stochastic background. The most likely sources of continuous GWs in the pulsar timing frequency band are extremely massive and/or nearby SMBHBs. In this paper we present detection strategies including various forms of matched filtering and power spectral summing. We determine the efficacy and computational cost of such strategies. It is shown that using an optimal matched filter explicitly including the poorly constrained pulsar distances with a grid-based method is computationally infeasible. We show that an Earth-term-matched filter constructed using only the correlated signal terms is robust, computationally viable and highly sensitive to GW signals. We further show that a simple power spectral summing technique is nearly equivalent to the Earth-term-matched filter in terms of the minimum detectable amplitude. Both of these techniques are only a factor of two less sensitive than the computationally unrealizable optimal matched filter. We also show that a pairwise matched filter, taking the pulsar distances into account, is comparable to the optimal matched filter for the single template case and comparable to the Earth-term-matched filter for many search templates. Finally, using simulated data optimal quality, we place a theoretical minimum detectable strain amplitude of h > 2 × 10-15 from continuous GWs at frequencies on the order 1/T obs. © 2012. The American Astronomical Society. All rights reserved..


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Astrophysical Journal





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