Bayesian inference for pulsar timing models

The extremely regular, periodic radio emission from millisecond pulsars make them useful tools for studying neutron star astrophysics, general relativity, and low-frequency gravitational waves. These studies require that the observed pulse time of arrivals are fit to complicated timing models that describe numerous effects such as the astrometry of the source, the evolution of the pulsar’s spin, the presence of a binary companion, and the propagation of the pulses through the interstellar medium. In this paper, we discuss the benefits of using Bayesian inference to obtain these timing solutions. These include the validation of linearized least-squares model fits when they are correct, and the proper characterization of parameter uncertainties when they are not; the incorporation of prior parameter information and of models of correlated noise; and the Bayesian comparison of alternative timing models. We describe our computational setup, which combines the timing models of tempo2 with the nested-sampling integrator MultiNest. We compare the timing solutions generated using Bayesian inference and linearized least-squares for three pulsars: B1953+29, J2317+1439, and J1640+2224, which demonstrate a variety of the benefits that we posit.

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Date added: Fri, 11 Oct 13