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Searching for detached black holes in the TESS data


Term:

Fall

Department:

MKI: MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research

Faculty Supervisor:

George R. Ricker

Faculty email:

grr@space.mit.edu

Apply by:

24 September 2020

Contact:

Tansu Daylan, tdaylan@mit.edu

Project Description

Our current understanding of stellar mass black holes is limited to those in binaries on tight orbits. These are either probed by their X-ray emission due to mass accretion from the nearby stellar companion or, more recently, by the gravitational waves produced during their merger. However, a much larger number of such compact objects are expected to exist at wider orbits and have so far been observationally inaccessible. A rare, but interesting geometric alignment of the orbital plane with our line-of-sight allows some black holes to gravitationally magnify the light from the stellar companion. These black holes are the closest observable black holes to our Solar System. Using this self-lensing signature, a pipeline has been developed to search for quiescent black hole candidates in the data collected by the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), where we exploit the high precision enabled by space-based photometry. Since this search has a well-characterized selection function, it yields a robust probe of the black hole occurrence rate and the mass gap between black holes and neutron stars. The prospective student will be expected to maintain and improve the pipeline and help with the observational follow-up of the candidates.

Pre-requisites

advanced python and signal processing skills ability to use astrophysical databases (e.g., MAST) basic understanding of concepts in time-domain astrophysics