Probing the stellar wind environment of Vela X–1 with MAXI
1 Institut für Astronomie und Astrophysik, Sand 1, 72076 Tübingen, Germany
2 MAXI team, RIKEN, 2-1 Hirosawa, Wako, 351-0198 Saitama, Japan
3 Department of Physics, The University of Tokyo 7-3-1 Hongo, Bunkyo-ku, 113-0033 Tokyo, Japan
Received: 20 July 2015
Accepted: 27 January 2016
Context. Vela X-1 is one of the best-studied and most luminous accreting X-ray pulsars. The supergiant optical companion produces a strong radiatively driven stellar wind that is accreted onto the neutron star, producing highly variable X-ray emission. A complex phenomenology that is due to both gravitational and radiative effects needs to be taken into account to reproduce orbital spectral variations.
Aims. We have investigated the spectral and light curve properties of the X-ray emission from Vela X-1 along the binary orbit. These studies allow constraining the stellar wind properties and its perturbations that are induced by the pulsating neutron star.
Methods. We took advantage of the All Sky Monitor MAXI/GSC data to analyze Vela X-1 spectra and light curves. By studying the orbital profiles in the 4−10 and 10−20 keV energy bands, we extracted a sample of orbital light curves (~15% of the total) showing a dip around the inferior conjunction, that is, a double-peaked shape. We analyzed orbital phase-averaged and phase-resolved spectra of both the double-peaked and the standard sample.
Results. The dip in the double-peaked sample needs NH ~ 2 × 1024cm-2 to be explained by absorption alone, which is not observed in our analysis. We show that Thomson scattering from an extended and ionized accretion wake can contribute to the observed dip. Fit by a cutoff power-law model, the two analyzed samples show orbital modulation of the photon index that hardens by ~0.3 around the inferior conjunction, compared to earlier and later phases. This indicates a possible inadequacy of this model. In contrast, including a partial covering component at certain orbital phase bins allows a constant photon index along the orbital phases, indicating a highly inhomogeneous environment whose column density has a local peak around the inferior conjunction. We discuss our results in the framework of possible scenarios.
Key words: X-rays: binaries / stars: neutron / stars: winds, outflows / accretion, accretion disks / pulsars: individual: Vela X-1
© ESO, 2016