ULX spectra revisited: Accreting, highly magnetized neutron stars as the engines of ultraluminous X-ray sources
1 CNRS, IRAP9 Av. colonel Roche, BP 44346, 31028 Toulouse Cedex 4, France
2 Université de Toulouse, UPS-OMP, IRAP, 31400 Toulouse, France
3 Max-Planck-Institut für Extraterrestrische Physik, Giessenbachstraße, 85748 Garching, Germany
4 INAF/Osservatorio Astronomico di Cagliari, via della Scienza 5, 09047 Selargius (CA), Italy
Received: 3 April 2017
Accepted: 13 October 2017
Aims. In light of recent discoveries of pulsating ultraluminous X-ray sources (ULXs) and recently introduced theoretical schemes that propose neutron stars (NSs) as the central engines of ULXs, we revisit the spectra of eighteen well known ULXs, in search of indications that favour this newly emerging hypothesis.
Methods. We examine the spectra from high-quality XMM-Newton and NuSTAR observations. We use a combination of elementary black body and multicolour disk black body (MCD) models, to diagnose the predictions of classic and novel theoretical models of accretion onto NSs. We re-interpret the well established spectral characteristics of ULXs in terms of accretion onto lowly or highly magnetised NSs, and explore the resulting parameter space for consistency.
Results. We confirm the previously noted presence of the low-energy (≲6 keV) spectral rollover and argue that it could be interpreted as due to thermal emission. The spectra are well described by a double thermal model consisting of a “hot” (≳1 keV) and a “cool” (≲0.7 keV) multicolour black body (MCB). Under the assumption that the “cool” MCD emission originates in a disk truncated at the neutron star magnetosphere, we find that all ULXs in our sample are consistent with accretion onto a highly magnetised (B ≳ 1012 G) neutron star. We note a strong correlation between the strength of the magnetic field, the temperature of the “hot” thermal component and the total unabsorbed luminosity. Examination of the NuSTAR data supports this interpretation and also confirms the presence of a weak, high-energy (≳15 keV) tail, most likely the result of modification of the MCB emission by inverse Compton scattering. We also note that the apparent high-energy tail, may simply be the result of mismodelling of MCB emission with an atypical temperature (T) versus radius (r) gradient, using a standard MCD model with a fixed gradient of T ~ r-0.75.
Conclusions. We have offered a new and robust physical interpretation for the dual-thermal spectra of ULXs. We find that the best-fit derived parameters of our model, are in excellent agreement with recent theoretical predictions that favour super-critically accreting NSs as the engines of a large fraction of ULXs. Nevertheless, the considerable degeneracy between models and the lack of unequivocal evidence cannot rule out other equally plausible interpretations. Deeper broadband observations and time-resolved spectroscopy are warranted to further explore this newly emerging framework.
Key words: X-rays: binaries / accretion, accretion disks
© ESO, 2017