HST/WFPC2 observations of the LMC pulsar PSR B0540–69 *
Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London, Holmbury St. Mary, Dorking, Surrey, RH5 6NT, UK e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
2 INAF – Istituto di Astrofisica Spaziale e Fisica Cosmica di Milano,Via Bassini 15, 20133 Milano, Italy
3 Istituto Universitario di Studi Superiori Viale Lungo Ticino Sforza 56, Pavia 27100, Italy
4 Nicolaus Copernicus Astronomical Center, ul. Rabiańska 8, 87100 Toruń, Poland
5 KAA UMK, Gagarina 11, 87-100 Torun, Poland
6 Institute of Astronomy, University of Zielona Góra, Lubuska 2, 65-265 Zielona Góra, Poland
7 IESL, Foundation for Research and Technology, 71110 Heraklion, Crete, Greece
8 Max-Planck Institut für Extraterrestrische Physik, Giessenbachstrasse 1, 85741 Garching bei München, Germany
Accepted: 2 March 2010
Context. The study of the younger, and brighter, pulsars is important for understanding the optical emission properties of isolated neutron stars through observations which, even in the 10 m-class telescope era, are much more challenging for older and fainter objects. PSR B0540-69, the second brightest (V~22) optical pulsar, is obviously a primary target for these investigations.
Aims. The aims of this work are several: (i) constraining the pulsar proper motion and its velocity on the plane of the sky and improving the determination of the pulsar coordinates through optical astrometry; (ii) obtaining a more precise characterisation of the pulsar optical spectral energy distribution (SED) through a consistent set of multi-band, high-resolution, imaging photometry observations and studying the relation with the X-ray spectrum, including the presence of a spectral turnover between the two bands. Last, we aim at (iii) measuring the pulsar optical phase-averaged linear polarisation, for which only a preliminary and uncertain measurement has been obtained so far from ground-based observations, and at testing the predictions of different neutron star magnetosphere models.
Methods. We performed high-resolution observations of PSR B0540-69 with the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) aboard the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), in both direct imaging and polarimetry modes.
Results. From multi-epoch astrometry we set a 3 σ upper limit of 1 mas yr-1 on the pulsar proper motion, implying a transverse velocity <250 km s-1 at the 50 kpc LMC distance. Moreover, we determined the pulsar absolute position with an unprecedented accuracy of 70 mas. From multi-band photometry we characterised the pulsar power-law spectrum and derived the most accurate measurement of the spectral index ( = 0.70 ± 0.07), which indicates a spectral turnover between the optical and X-ray bands. Finally, from polarimetry we obtained a new measurement of the pulsar phase-averaged polarisation degree (PD = 16% ± 4%), consistent with magnetosphere models, depending on the actual intrinsic polarisation degree and depolarisation factor, and we found that the polarisation vector ( ± position angle) is possibly aligned with the semi-major axis of the pulsar-wind nebula and with the apparent proper motion direction of its bright emission knot.
Conclusions. Deeper studies with the HST can only be possible with the refurbished Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS) and with the new Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3).
Key words: pulsars: general / pulsars: individual: PSR B0540-69
© ESO, 2010