Volume 638, June 2020
|Number of page(s)||5|
|Section||Letters to the Editor|
|Published online||08 June 2020|
Letter to the Editor
Unexpected late-time temperature increase observed in the two neutron star crust-cooling sources XTE J1701−462 and EXO 0748−676
Anton Pannekoek Institute for Astronomy, University of Amsterdam, Postbus 94249, 1090 GE Amsterdam, The Netherlands
2 SRON, Netherlands Institute for Space Research, Sorbonnelaan 2, 3584 CA Utrecht, The Netherlands
3 Eureka Scientific, Inc., 2452 Delmer Street, Oakland, CA, 94602, USA
4 Instituto de Astronomía, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico D.F., 04510, Mexico
Accepted: 11 May 2020
Transient low-mass X-ray binaries (LMXBs) that host neutron stars (NSs) provide excellent laboratories for probing the dense matter physics present in NS crusts. During accretion outbursts in LMXBs, exothermic reactions may heat the NS crust, disrupting the crust-core equilibrium. When the outburst ceases, the crust cools to restore thermal equilibrium with the core. Monitoring this cooling evolution allows us to probe the dense matter physics in the crust. Properties of the deeper crustal layers can be probed at later times after the end of the outburst. We report on the unexpected late-time temperature evolution (≳2000 days after the end of their outbursts) of two NSs in LMXBs, XTE J1701−462 and EXO 0748−676. Although both these sources exhibited very different outbursts (in terms of duration and the average accretion rate), they exhibit an unusually steep decay of ∼7 eV in the observed effective temperature (occurring in a time span of ∼700 days) around ∼2000 days after the end of their outbursts. Furthermore, they both showed an even more unexpected rise of ∼3 eV in temperature (over a time period of ∼500–2000 days) after this steep decay. This rise was significant at the 2.4σ and 8.5σ level for XTE J1701−462 and EXO 0748−676, respectively. The physical explanation for such behaviour is unknown and cannot be straightforwardly be explained within the cooling hypothesis. In addition, this observed evolution cannot be well explained by low-level accretion either without invoking many assumptions. We investigate the potential pathways in the theoretical heating and cooling models that could reproduce this unusual behaviour, which so far has been observed in two crust-cooling sources. Such a temperature increase has not been observed in the other NS crust-cooling sources at similarly late times, although it cannot be excluded that this might be a result of the inadequate sampling obtained at such late times.
Key words: accretion, accretion disks / stars: neutron / X-rays: binaries
© ESO 2020
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