• Testing General Relativity in the Strong-Field Regime with Observations of Black Holes in the Electromagnetic Spectrum

      Psaltis, Dimitrios; Johannsen, Tim; Marrone, Daniel; Özel, Feryal; Johns, Kenneth; Psaltis, Dimitrios (The University of Arizona., 2012)
      General relativity has been tested by many experiments, which, however, almost exclusively probe weak spacetime curvatures. In this thesis, I create two frameworks for testing general relativity in the strong-field regime with observations of black holes in the electromagnetic spectrum using current or near-future instruments. In the first part, I design tests of the no-hair theorem, which uniquely characterizes the nature of black holes in terms of their masses and spins in general relativity and which states that these compact objects are described by the Kerr metric. I investigate a quasi-Kerr metric and construct a Kerr-like spacetime, both of which contain an independent parameter in addition to mass and spin. If the no-hair theorem is correct, then any deviation from the Kerr metric has to be zero. I show that already moderate changes of the deviation parameters in either metric lead to significant modifications of the observed signals. First, I apply this framework to the imaging of supermassive black holes using very-long baseline interferometry. I show that the shadow of a black hole as well as the shape of a bright and narrow ring surrounding the shadow depend uniquely on its mass, spin, inclination, and the deviation parameter. I argue that the no-hair theorem can be tested with observations of the supermassive black hole Sgr A*. Second, I investigate the potential of quasi-periodic variability observed in both galactic black holes and active galactic nuclei to test the no-hair theorem in two different scenarios. Third, I show that the profiles of relativistically broadened iron lines emitted from the accretion disks of black holes imprint the signatures of deviations from the Kerr metric. In the second part, I devise a method to test the predicted evaporation of black holes in the Randall-Sundrum model of string theory-inspired braneworld gravity through the orbital evolution of black-hole X-ray binaries and obtain constraints on the size of the extra dimension from A0620-00 and XTE J1118+480. I predict the first detection of orbital evolution in a black-hole binary.