Pulsar timing in extreme mass ratio binaries: a general relativistic approach


The detection of a pulsar (PSR) in a tight, relativistic orbit around a supermassive or intermediate mass black hole - such as those in the Galactic centre or in the centre of Globular clusters - would allow for precision tests of general relativity (GR) in the strong-field, non-linear regime. We present a framework for calculating the theoretical time-frequency signal from a PSR in such an Extreme Mass Ratio Binary (EMRB). This framework is entirely relativistic with no weak-field approximations and so able to account for all higher-order strong-field gravitational effects, relativistic spin dynamics, the convolution with astrophysical effects and the combined impact on the PSR timing signal. Specifically we calculate both the spacetime path of the pulsar radio signal and the complex orbital and spin dynamics of a spinning pulsar around a Kerr black hole, accounting for spacetime curvature and frame dragging, relativistic and gravitational time delay, gravitational light bending, temporal and spatial dispersion induced by the presence of plasma along the line of sight and relativistic aberration. This then allows for a consistent time-frequency solution to be generated. Such a framework is key for assessing the use of PSR as probes of strong field GR, helping to inform the detection of an EMRB system hosting a PSR and, most essentially, for providing an accurate theoretical basis to then compare with observations to test fundamental physics.