Document Type


Date of Degree

Fall 2012

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Philip Kaaret


Black hole binaries (BHBs) consist of a black hole which accretes matter from a companion star and emits radiation primarily in the X-ray band. They are known to evolve through various states of emission, which are believed to signify changes in the accretion geometry. MAXI J1659--152 is a recently discovered galactic BHB, and we used Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer (RXTE) observations to investigate its state evolution during its 2010 outburst. This evolution was found to be similar to that of other known BHBs, although its thermal spectral component was relatively weak. The data was also used to estimate the black hole mass to be 3.6--8.0 solar masses. Archival RXTE and Swift data were used to examine another BHB known as GX 339--4 in its faint, hard emission state. This source has a persistent iron line in its spectrum throughout its various emission states, and it is frequently used to estimate the inner radius of its accretion disk. The data were unable to constrain the inner radius through the modeling of the iron line, but estimates based on modeling of the thermal spectral component proved to be consistent with an increase in inner radius at low luminosities.

Theoretical predictions of the soft X-ray polarization of BHBs indicate a change in both angle and magnitude with energy. The details of this change depend on both the spin and mass of the black hole. The NASA Gravity and Extreme Magnetism Small Explorer (GEMS) mission sought to use this effect to measure the spin of BHBs, which is necessary to develop tests of the Kerr metric in general relativity. The Bragg Reflection Polarimeter (BRP) was the student experiment on this mission, and was in the beginning stages of flight fabrication at the time of the mission's cancellation in May 2012. A prototype multilayer reflector meeting nearly all requirements was developed and its performance measured at a synchrotron beamline. Monte-Carlo simulations were carried out to estimate the ultimate polarization sensitivity of the BRP, and indicated satisfaction of the BRP science requirement. Finally, a fully polarized, 511 eV beamline was developed and used to calibrate a BRP instrument prototype, validating the sensitivity predictions.


xi, 99 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 95-99).


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Copyright 2012 Ryan Allured

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