Journal Article

Where is the radiation edge in magnetized black hole accretion discs?

Kris Beckwith, John F. Hawley and Julian H. Krolik

in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

Published on behalf of The Royal Astronomical Society

Volume 390, issue 1, pages 21-38
Published in print October 2008 | ISSN: 0035-8711
Published online October 2008 | e-ISSN: 1365-2966 | DOI:
Where is the radiation edge in magnetized black hole accretion discs?

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General relativistic (GR) magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) simulations of black hole accretion find significant magnetic stresses near and inside the innermost stable circular orbit (ISCO), suggesting that such flows could radiate in a manner noticeably different from the prediction of the standard model, which assumes that there are no stresses in that region. We provide estimates of how phenomenologically interesting parameters like the ‘radiation edge’, the innermost ring of the disc from which substantial thermal radiation escapes to infinity, may be altered by stresses near the ISCO. These estimates are based on data from a large number of three-dimensional GRMHD simulations combined with GR ray tracing. For slowly spinning black holes (a/M < 0.9), the radiation edge lies well inside where the standard model predicts, particularly when the system is viewed at high inclination. For more rapidly spinning black holes, the contrast is smaller. At fixed total luminosity, the characteristic temperature of the accretion flow increases between a factor of 1.2 and 2.4 over that predicted by the standard model, whilst at fixed mass accretion rate, there is a corresponding enhancement of the accretion luminosity which may be anywhere from tens of per cent to order unity. When all these considerations are combined, we find that, for fixed black hole mass, luminosity and inclination angle, our uncertainty in the characteristic temperature of the radiation reaching distant observers due to uncertainty in dissipation profile (around a factor of 3) is greater than the uncertainty due to a complete lack of knowledge of the black hole's spin (around a factor of 2) and furthermore that spin estimates based on the stress-free inner boundary condition provide an upper limit to a/M.

Keywords: accretion, accretion discs; MHD; relativity

Journal Article.  14705 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Astronomy and Astrophysics

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