Probing the Strong (Stationary) Gravitational Field of Accreting Black Holes with X-ray Observations

Abstract

High throughput time-resolved observations of accreting collapsed objects at X-ray energies provide key information on the motions of matter orbiting a few gravitational radii away from black holes. Predictions of general relativity in the strong field regime, such as relativistic epicyclic motions, precession, light bending and the presence and radius of an innermost stable circular orbit in the close vicinity of a black hole can be verified by making use of two powerful diagnostics, namely relativistically broadened \(\hbox {Fe-K}\alpha \) lines and variability on dynamical timescales, quasi periodic oscillations in particular. Moreover tomography and reverberation techniques relying upon combined spectral timing and polarimetric timing provide an entirely new perspective in the field. Both the low and high spacetime curvature regimes of gravity can be probed by studying black holes of vastly different masses in X-ray binaries and Active Galactic Nuclei, opening up the possibility of testing also some alternative theories of gravity. To achieve these goals, very large area X-ray instrumentation with good spectral resolution and polarimetric capability is required. Prospects and projects in this area of research are briefly surveyed.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Note that QPOs and relativistic Fe-lines are being studied also with the recently launched missions ASTROSAT [31] and NICER [33].

  2. 2.

    The Athena mission, with its \(\sim 1\) \(\hbox {m}^2\) X-ray optics, will also have reverberation capabilities though mainly in the energy range below \(\sim 10\) keV [44]. It is planned for launch in the 2030s.

  3. 3.

    To be launched in 2020.

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Acknowledgements

I acknowledge many useful discussions with and numerous inputs from members of the LOFT, eXTP and STROBE-X collaborations; I am especially indebted to Enrico Bozzo, Alessandra De Rosa, Marco Feroci, Adam Ingram, Michiel van der Klis, Leonardo Gualtieri, Andrea Maselli and Phil Uttley. Alessandra De Rosa provided also comments on an earlier version of this review. The author acknowledges financial contribution from ASI-INAF Agreement n.2017-14-H.O.

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Stella, L. Probing the Strong (Stationary) Gravitational Field of Accreting Black Holes with X-ray Observations. Found Phys 48, 1500–1516 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10701-018-0212-x

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Keywords

  • Tests of relativistic gravity
  • Black holes
  • Accretion disks
  • X-ray astronomy
  • Theories of gravity