Simulations of an inhomogeneous stellar wind interacting with a pulsar wind in a binary system⋆
1 Departament d’Astronomia i Meteorologia, Institut de Ciènces del Cosmos, Universitat de Barcelona, IEEC-UB, Martí i Franquès 1, 08028 Barcelona, Spain
2 Departament d’Astronomia i Astrofísica, Universitat de València, Av. Vicent Andrés Estellés s/n, 46100 Burjassot, València, Spain
Received: 24 July 2014
Accepted: 9 November 2014
Context. Binary systems containing a massive star and a non-accreting pulsar present strong interaction between the stellar and the pulsar winds. The properties of this interaction, which largely determine the non-thermal radiation in these systems, strongly depend on the structure of the stellar wind, which can be clumpy or strongly anisotropic, as in Be stars.
Aims. We study numerically the influence of inhomogeneities in the stellar wind on the structure of the two-wind interaction region.
Methods. We carried out for the first time axisymmetric, relativistic hydrodynamical simulations, with Lorentz factors of ~6 and accounting for the impact of instabilities, to study the impact in the two-wind interaction structure of an over-dense region of the stellar wind. We also followed the evolution of this over-dense region or clump as it faces the impact of the pulsar wind.
Results. For typical system parameters, and adopting a stellar wind inhomogeneity with a density contrast χ ≳ 10, clumps with radii of a few percent of the binary size can significantly perturb the two-wind interaction region, pushing the two-wind interface to ≲40% of the initial distance to the pulsar. After it is shocked, the inhomogeneity quickly expands and is disrupted when it reaches the smallest distance to the pulsar. It eventually fragments, being advected away from the binary system. The whole interaction region is quite unstable, and the shocked pulsar wind can strongly change under small perturbations.
Conclusions. We confirm the sensitive nature of the two-wind interaction structure to perturbations, in particular when the stellar wind is inhomogeneous. For realistic over-dense regions of the stellar wind, the interaction region may shrink by a factor of a few, with the shocked flow presenting a complex spatial and temporal pattern. This can lead to strong variations in the non-thermal radiation.
Key words: hydrodynamics / X-rays: binaries / stars: winds, outflows / radiation mechanisms: non-thermal / gamma rays: stars
Appendix A is available in electronic form at http://www.aanda.org
© ESO, 2015