A Global Spectral Study of Black Hole X-ray Binaries
(Abridged) We report on a consistent and comprehensive spectral analysis of the X-ray emission of 25 Black Hole X-ray Binaries. All publicly available observations of the black hole binaries in the RXTE archive were analysed. Three different types of model were fitted to investigate the spectral changes occurring during an outburst. For the population, as well as each binary and each outburst from each binary, we construct two diagnostic diagrams. The Hardness Intensity/Luminosity Diagram (HID/HLD) is most useful when studying a single binary. However, to compare between different binary systems, the Disc Fraction Luminosity diagram (DFLD) is more useful. We discuss the limitations of both diagnostic diagrams for the study of the X-ray binary outbursts, and we clearly illustrate how the two diagrams map onto each other for real outburst data. We extract the peak luminosities in a single outburst, as well as the luminosities at the transitions away from- and returning to the powerlaw dominated state for each outburst. The distribution of the luminosities at the transition from the powerlaw to the disc dominated state peaks at around 0.3L_Edd, the same as the peak of the distribution of the peak luminosities in an outburst. Using the disc fraction to calculate the transition luminosities shows that the distributions of the luminosities for the transitions away from- and return to the powerlaw dominated state are both broad and appear to overlap. Finally we compare the measured X-ray luminosities with a small number of contemporaneous radio measurements. Overall this is the most comprehensive and uniform global study of black hole X-ray binaries to date.