Volume 520, September-October 2010
|Number of page(s)||13|
|Section||Stellar structure and evolution|
|Published online||06 October 2010|
Evidence of heavy-element ashes in thermonuclear X-ray bursts with photospheric superexpansion
SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research, Sorbonnelaan 2,
3584 CA Utrecht, The Netherlands e-mail: J.J.M.in.t.Zand@sron.nl
2 Astronomy Department and Theoretical Astrophysics Center, University of California, Berkeley, 601 Campbell Hall, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA
Accepted: 28 April 2010
A small subset of thermonuclear X-ray bursts on neutron stars exhibit such a strong photospheric expansion that for a few seconds the photosphere is located at a radius rph 103 km. Such “superexpansions” imply a large and rapid energy release, a feature characteristic of pure He burst models. Previous calculations have shown that during a pure He burst, the freshly synthesized heavy-element ashes of burning can be ejected in a strong radiative wind and produce significant spectral absorption features. We search the burst data catalogs and literature and find 32 superexpansion bursts, 24 of which were detected with BeppoSAX and three with RXTE at high time resolution. We find that these bursts exhibit the following interesting features: (1) At least 31 are from (candidate) ultracompact X-ray binaries in which the neutron star accretes hydrogen-deficient fuel, suggesting that these bursts indeed ignite in a helium-rich layer. (2) In two of the RXTE bursts we detect strong absorption edges during the expansion phase. The edge energies and depths are consistent with the H-like or He-like edge of iron-peak elements with abundances 100 times solar, suggesting that we are seeing the exposed ashes of nuclear burning. (3) The superexpansion phase is always followed by a moderate expansion phase during which rph ~ 30 km and the luminosity is near the Eddington limit. (4) The decay time of the bursts, , ranges from short (≈10 s) to intermediate (103 s). However, despite the large range of , the duration of the superexpansion is always a few seconds, independent of . By contrast, the duration of the moderate expansion is always of order . (5) The photospheric radii rph during the moderate expansion phase are much smaller than steady state wind models predict. We show that this may be further indication that the wind contains highly non-solar abundances of heavy elements.
Key words: X-rays: binaries / nuclear reactions, nucleosynthesis, abundances / stars: neutron / radiative transfer / X-rays: general
© ESO, 2010
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