Measuring the properties of nearly extremal black holes with gravitational waves

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© 2018 American Physical Society. Characterizing the properties of black holes is one of the most important science objectives for gravitational-wave observations. Astrophysical evidence suggests that black holes that are nearly extremal (i.e., spins near the theoretical upper limit) might exist and, thus, might be among the merging black holes observed with gravitational waves. In this paper, we explore how well current gravitational wave parameter estimation methods can measure the spins of rapidly spinning black holes in binaries. We simulate gravitational-wave signals using numerical-relativity waveforms for nearly-extremal, merging black holes. For simplicity, we confine our attention to binaries with spins parallel or antiparallel with the orbital angular momentum. We find that recovering the holes' nearly extremal spins is challenging. When the spins are nearly extremal and parallel to each other, the resulting parameter estimates do recover spins that are large, though the recovered spin magnitudes are still significantly smaller than the true spin magnitudes. When the spins are nearly extremal and antiparallel to each other, the resulting parameter estimates recover the small effective spin but incorrectly estimate the individual spins as nearly zero. We study the effect of spin priors and argue that a commonly used prior (uniform in spin magnitude and direction) hinders unbiased recovery of large black-hole spins.