EDP Sciences
Free Access
Volume 404, Number 3, June IV 2003
Page(s) L43 - L46
Section Letters
DOI https://doi.org/10.1051/0004-6361:20030669

A&A 404, L43-L46 (2003)
DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361:20030669


The optical counterpart to SAX J1808.4-3658 in quiescence: Evidence of an active radio pulsar?

L. Burderi1, T. Di Salvo2, 3, F. D'Antona1, N. R. Robba3 and V. Testa1

1  Osservatorio Astronomico di Monteporzio, via Frascati 33, 00040 Roma, Italy
2  Astronomical Institute "Anton Pannekoek", University of Amsterdam and Center for High-Energy Astrophysics, Kruislaan 403, NL 1098 SJ Amsterdam, The Netherlands
    e-mail: disalvo@astro.uva.nl
3  Dipartimento di Scienze Fisiche ed Astronomiche, Università di Palermo, via Archirafi 36, 90123 Palermo, Italy

(Received 12 March 2003 / Accepted 26 April 2003 )

The optical counterpart of the binary millisecond X-ray pulsar SAX J1808.4-3658 during quiescence was detected at V = 21.5 mag by Homer et al. (2001). This star shows a 6% semi-amplitude sinusoidal modulation of its flux at the orbital period of the system. It was proposed that the modulation arises from X-ray irradiation of the intrinsically faint companion by a remnant accretion disk, and that the bulk of the optical emission arises from viscous dissipation in the disk. The serious difficulty in this scenario lies in the estimate of the irradiating luminosity required to match the observational data, that is a factor 10-50 higher than the quiescent X-ray luminosity of this source. To overcome this problem, we propose an alternative scenario, in which the irradiation is due to the release of rotational energy by the fast spinning neutron star, switched on, as magneto-dipole rotator (radio pulsar), during quiescence. Our computations indicate that the optical magnitudes are fully consistent with this hypothesis. In this case the observed optical luminosity may be the first evidence that a radio pulsar is active in this system in quiescence, a key phase for understanding the evolution of this class of objects.

Key words: accretion discs -- stars: individual: SAX J1808.4-3658 -- stars: neutron -- X-rays: stars -- X-rays: binaries -- X-rays: general

Offprint request: L. Burderi, burderi@coma.mporzio.astro.it

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© ESO 2003

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