X-ray charge-coupled devices (CCDs) are the workhorse detectors of modern X-ray astronomy. Typically covering the 0.3-10.0 keV energy range, CCDs are able to detect photoelectric absorption edges and K shell lines from most abundant metals. New CCDs also offer resolutions of 30-50 (E/ΔE), which is sufficient to detect lines in hot plasmas and to resolve many lines shaped by dynamical processes in accretion flows. The spectral capabilities of X-ray CCDs have been particularly important in detecting relativistic emission lines from the inner disks around accreting neutron stars and black holes. One drawback of X-ray CCDs is that spectra can be distorted by photon "pile-up," wherein two or more photons may be registered as a single event during one frame time. We have conducted a large number of simulations using a statistical model of photon pile-up to assess its impacts on relativistic disk line and continuum spectra from stellar-mass black holes and neutron stars. The simulations cover the range of current X-ray CCD spectrometers and operational modes typically used to observe neutron stars and black holes in X-ray binaries. Our results suggest that severe photon pile-up acts to falsely narrow emission lines, leading to falsely large disk radii and falsely low spin values. In contrast, our simulations suggest that disk continua affected by severe pile-up are measured to have falsely low flux values, leading to falsely small radii and falsely high spin values. The results of these simulations and existing data appear to suggest that relativistic disk spectroscopy is generally robust against pile-up when this effect is modest.
Cosmology, Relativity, and Gravity | Instrumentation | Stars, Interstellar Medium and the Galaxy
On Relativistic Disk Spectroscopy in Compact Objects with X-ray CCD Cameras
J. M. Miller et al. 2010 ApJ 724 1441