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Keywords:

  • accretion, accretion discs;
  • black hole physics;
  • MHD;
  • methods: numerical;
  • X-rays: binaries

ABSTRACT

The X-ray spectra of accretion discs of eight stellar mass black holes have been analysed to date using the thermal continuum-fitting method, and the spectral fits have been used to estimate the spin parameters of the black holes. However, the underlying model used in this method of estimating spin is the general relativistic thin-disc model of Novikov & Thorne, which is only valid for razor-thin discs. We therefore expect errors in the measured values of spin due to inadequacies in the theoretical model. We investigate this issue by computing spectra of numerically calculated models of thin accretion discs around black holes, obtained via three-dimensional general relativistic magnetohydrodynamic (GRMHD) simulations. We apply the continuum-fitting method to these computed spectra to estimate the black hole spins and check how closely the values match the actual spin used in the GRMHD simulations. We find that the error in the dimensionless spin parameter is up to about 0.2 for a non-spinning black hole, depending on the inclination. For black holes with spins of 0.7, 0.9 and 0.98, the errors are up to about 0.1, 0.03 and 0.01, respectively. These errors are comparable to or smaller than those arising from current levels of observational uncertainty. Furthermore, we estimate that the GRMHD simulated discs from which these error estimates are obtained correspond to effective disc luminosities of about 0.4–0.7 Eddington, and that the errors will be smaller for discs with luminosities of 0.3 Eddington or less, which are used in the continuum-fitting method. We thus conclude that use of the Novikov–Thorne thin-disc model does not presently limit the accuracy of the continuum-fitting method of measuring black hole spin.