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A two per cent Hubble constant measurement from standard sirens within five years



Gravitational-wave detections provide a novel way to determine the Hubble constant1,2,3, which is the current rate of expansion of the Universe. This ‘standard siren’ method, with the absolute distance calibration provided by the general theory of relativity, was used to measure the Hubble constant using the gravitational-wave detection of the binary neutron-star merger, GW170817, by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and Virgo4, combined with optical identification of the host galaxy5,6 NGC 4993. This independent measurement is of particular interest given the discrepancy between the value of the Hubble constant determined using type Ia supernovae via the local distance ladder (73.24 ± 1.74 kilometres per second per megaparsec) and the value determined from cosmic microwave background observations (67.4 ± 0.5 kilometres per second per megaparsec): these values differ7,8 by about 3σ. Local distance ladder observations may achieve a precision of one per cent within five years, but at present there are no indications that further observations will substantially reduce the existing discrepancies9. Here we show that additional gravitational-wave detections by LIGO and Virgo can be expected to constrain the Hubble constant to a precision of approximately two per cent within five years and approximately one per cent within a decade. This is because observing gravitational waves from the merger of two neutron stars, together with the identification of a host galaxy, enables a direct measurement of the Hubble constant independent of the systematics associated with other available methods. In addition to clarifying the discrepancy between existing low-redshift (local ladder) and high-redshift (cosmic microwave background) measurements, a precision measurement of the Hubble constant is of crucial value in elucidating the nature of dark energy10,11.

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Fig. 1: Projected number of BNS detections and corresponding fractional error for the standard siren H0 measurement.
Fig. 2: Projected fractional error for the standard siren H0 measurement for BNSs and BBHs for future gravitational-wave detector networks.

Data availability

Source Data for Figs. 1, 2 and Extended Data Fig. 1 are provided with the online version of the paper. Other data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.


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We acknowledge discussions with L. Blackburn, R. Essick, W. Farr and J. Gair. We were supported in part by NSF CAREER grant PHY-1151836 and NSF grant PHY-1708081. We were also supported by the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics at the University of Chicago through NSF grant PHY-1125897 and an endowment from the Kavli Foundation. We acknowledge the University of Chicago Research Computing Center for support of this work. H.-Y.C. was supported in part by the Black Hole Initiative at Harvard University, through a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. M.F. was supported by the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program under grant DGE-1746045.

Author contributions

H.-Y.C. led the project, conducted the simulations and led the analysis. M.F. provided the mathematical derivations and contributed to the analysis and results. D.E.H. conceived the project, supervised the research, and contributed to the analysis and results. All authors contributed to the draft preparation.

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Correspondence to Hsin-Yu Chen.

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Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Fig. 1 H0 uncertainty for BNS systems with identified counterparts and redshifts.

Each point is the H0 uncertainty \({\sigma }_{{H}_{0}}\) from a simulated detection with the Advanced HLV network operating at design sensitivity, as a function of the 90% localization volume. The colours correspond to the median of the GW distance measurement. The lower limit to the precision of individual measurements of about 3 km s−1 Mpc−1 is due to the ‘sweet spot’ between peculiar velocities and distance uncertainties, as discussed in the text. We find that, in general, closer events have smaller localization volumes and lead to better constraints on H0, although the closest events yield slightly worse constraints because of their larger fractional peculiar velocity uncertainties.

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Chen, HY., Fishbach, M. & Holz, D.E. A two per cent Hubble constant measurement from standard sirens within five years. Nature 562, 545–547 (2018).

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  • Standard SIR
  • Hubble Constant
  • Host Galaxy
  • BNS Mergers
  • Binary Black Hole (BBHs)

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