Revisiting the cosmic string origin of GW190521

Josu Aurrekoetxea, Charlie Graham Hoy, Mark Hannam

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For the first time we analyze gravitational-wave strain data using waveforms constructed from strong gravity simulations of cosmic string loops collapsing to Schwarzschild black holes; a previously unconsidered source. Since the expected signal is dominated by a black-hole ringdown, it can mimic the observed gravitational waves from high-mass binary black hole mergers. To illustrate this, we consider GW190521, a short duration gravitational-wave event observed in the third LIGO-Virgo-KAGRA observing run. We show that describing this event as a collapsing cosmic string loop is favored over previous cosmic string analyses by an approximate log Bayes factor of 22. The binary black hole hypothesis is still preferred, mostly because the cosmic string remnant is nonspinning. It remains an open question whether a spinning remnant could form from loops with angular momentum, but if possible, it would likely bring into contention the binary black hole preference. Finally, we suggest that searches for ringdown-only waveforms would be a viable approach for identifying collapsing cosmic string events and estimating their event rate. This Letter opens up an important new direction for the cosmic-string and gravitational-wave communities.
Original languageEnglish
Article number181401
Number of pages8
JournalPhysical Review Letters
Issue number18
Early online date30 Apr 2024
Publication statusPublished - 3 May 2024


  • UKRI
  • MRC
  • MR/T01881X/1
  • STFC
  • ST/V00154X/1
  • ST/P002293/1
  • ST/R002371/1
  • ST/S002502/1
  • ST/R000832/1

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