Volume 572, December 2014
|Number of page(s)||10|
|Section||Stellar structure and evolution|
|Published online||09 December 2014|
Long-term change in the cyclotron line energy in Hercules X-1
1 Institut für Astronomie und Astrophysik, Universität Tübingen, Sand 1, 72076 Tübingen, Germany
2 Dr. Remeis Sternwarte, Astronomisches Institut der Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, Sternwartstr. 7, 96049 Bamberg, Germany
3 Moscow M.V. Lomonosov State University, Sternberg Astronomical Institute, 119992 Moscow, Russia
4 Center for Astrophysics and Space Sciences, University of California at San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093-0424, USA
5 Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA 91125, USA
Received: 14 May 2014
Accepted: 8 October 2014
Aims. We investigate the long-term evolution of the cyclotron resonance scattering feature (CRSF) in the spectrum of the binary X-ray pulsar Her X-1 and present evidence of a true long-term decrease in the centroid energy Ecyc of the cyclotron line in the pulse phase averaged spectra from 1996 to 2012.
Methods. Our results are based on repeated observations of Her X-1 by those X-ray observatories capable of measuring clearly beyond the cyclotron line energy of ~40 keV; these are RXTE, INTEGRAL, Suzaku, and NuSTAR. We consider results based on our own successful observing proposals as well as results from the literature.
Results. The historical evolution of the pulse phase averaged CRSF centroid energy Ecyc since its discovery in 1976 is characterized by an initial value around 35 keV, an abrupt jump upwards to beyond ~40 keV between 1990 and 1994, and an apparent decay thereafter. Much of this decay, however, was found to be due to an artifact, namely a correlation between Ecyc and the X-ray luminosity Lx discovered in 2007. In observations after 2006, however, we now find a statistically significant true decrease in the cyclotron line energy. At the same time, the dependence of Ecyc on X-ray luminosity is still valid with an increase of ~5% in energy for a factor of two increase in luminosity. We also report on the first evidence of a weak dependence of Ecyc on phase of the 35 d precessional period, which manifests itself not only in the modulation of the X-ray flux, but also in the systematic variation in the shape of the 1.24 s pulse profile. One of our motivations for repeatedly observing Her X-1, namely the suspicion that the cyclotron line energy may be gradually decreasing after its strong upward jump in the early 1990s, is finally confirmed. A decrease in Ecyc by 4.2 keV over the 16 years from 1996 to 2012 can either be modeled by a linear decay, or by a slow decay until 2006 followed by a more abrupt decrease thereafter.
Conclusions. The observed timescale for the decrease in Ecyc of a few decades is too short for a decay of the global magnetic field. We speculate that the physical reason could be connected to a geometric displacement of the cyclotron resonant scattering region in the polar field or to a true physical change in the magnetic field configuration at the polar cap by the continued accretion. In the second scenario, the upward jump in Ecyc observed around 1991 may have been due to a relatively fast event in which the polar magnetic field rearranged itself after releasing part of the accumulated material to larger areas of the neutron star surface.
Key words: radiation mechanisms: non-thermal / binaries: eclipsing / pulsars: individual: Her X-1 / accretion, accretion disks / magnetic fields / X-rays: binaries
© ESO, 2014
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