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4 Probing Strong Gravitational Fields with Astrophysical Objects

A number of astrophysical objects offer the possibility of detecting directly the observable consequences of two strong-field predictions of general relativity that have no weak-field or Newtonian counterparts: the presence of a horizon around a collapsed object and the lack of stable circular orbits in the vicinity of a neutron star or black hole. As in most other areas of astrophysics research, we have to rely on imaging, spectral, or timing observations in order to reveal the information of the strong-field effects that is encoded in the detected photons. The construction of gravitational wave observatories will offer, for the first time in the near future, a wealth of additional probes into the inner workings of gravitational fields in the vicinities of compact objects.

In the following, I review a number of recent attempts to probe strong-field phenomena that have used a variety of techniques and were applied to different astrophysical objects. I will only discuss phenomena that are observable in the electromagnetic spectrum and refer to a number of excellent reviews on the gravitational phenomena that are anticipated to be detected by gravitational wave observatories [13758Jump To The Next Citation Point].

 4.1 Black-hole images
 4.2 Continuum spectroscopy of accreting black holes
  4.2.1 Luminosities of black holes in quiescence and the absence of a hard surface
  4.2.2 Hard X-ray spectra of luminous black holes and the presence of an event horizon
  4.2.3 Measuring the radii of the innermost stable circular orbits of black holes using continuum spectra
 4.3 Line spectroscopy of accreting compact objects
  4.3.1 Atomic lines from the surfaces of neutron stars
  4.3.2 Relativistically-broadened iron lines in accreting black holes
 4.4 The fast variability of accreting compact objects
  4.4.1 Quasi-periodic oscillations in neutron stars
  4.4.2 Quasi-periodic oscillations in black holes

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