EDP Sciences
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Volume 442, Number 2, November I 2005
Page(s) L15 - L19
Section Letters
DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.1051/0004-6361:200500177

A&A 442, L15-L19 (2005)
DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361:200500177


Accretion mode changes in Centaurus X-3

B. Paul1, H. Raichur1, 2 and U. Mukherjee1

1  Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Homi Bhabha Road, Colaba, Mumbai 400005, India
    e-mail: bpaul@tifr.res.in
2  Joint Astronomy Programme, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore 560012, India

(Received 19 July 2005 / Accepted 3 September 2005)

We report here discovery of the existence of two different accretion modes in the high mass X-ray binary pulsar Cen X-3 during its high states. The multiband X-ray light curves of Cen X-3 lasting for more than 3400 days obtained with the All Sky Monitor (ASM) onboard the Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer (RXTE) shows many episodes of high and low X-ray intensities. The high intensity phases last between a few to upto 110 days and the separation between two high intensity phases also varies widely. One remarkable feature deduced from the RXTE-ASM light curves is that during these high intensity phases, Cen X-3 manifests in two very distinct spectral states. When the source makes a transition from the low intensity phase to the high intensity phase, it adopts one of these two spectral states and during the entire high intensity phase remains in that particular spectral state. During December 2000 to April 2004, all the high intensity episodes showed a hardness ratio which is significantly larger than the same during all the high states prior to and subsequent to this period. It is also found that most of the soft outbursts reach a nearly constant peak flux in the 5-12 keV band. For comparison, similar analysis was carried out on the long term X-ray light curves of three other X-ray binary pulsars Her X-1, Vela X-1, and SMC X-1. Results obtained with these sources are also presented here and we found that none of the other sources show such a behaviour. From these observations, we suggest that Cen X-3 has two different accretion modes and in the course of nine years it has exhibited two switch overs between these.

Key words: stars: neutron -- pulsars: individual: Cen X-3 -- X-rays: stars

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