On the possibility of a helium white dwarf donor in the presumed ultracompact binary 2S 0918–549
SRON National Institute for Space Research, Sorbonnelaan 2, 3584 CA Utrecht, The Netherlands e-mail: email@example.com
2 Astronomical Institute, Utrecht University, PO Box 80000, 3508 TA Utrecht, The Netherlands
3 Physics Department, McGill University, 3600 Rue University, Montreal, QC, H3A 2T8, Canada
Accepted: 19 June 2005
2S 0918–549 is a low-mass X-ray binary (LMXB) with a low optical to X-ray flux ratio. Probably it is an ultracompact binary with an orbital period shorter than 60 min. Such binaries cannot harbor hydrogen rich donor stars. As with other (sometimes confirmed) ultracompact LMXBs, 2S 0918–549 is observed to have a high neon-to-oxygen abundance ratio (Juett et al. 2001, ApJ, 560, L59) which has been used to argue that the companion star is a CO or ONe white dwarf. However, type-I X-ray bursts have been observed from several of these systems implying the presence of hydrogen or helium on the neutron star surface. In this paper, we argue that the companion star in 2S 0918–549 is a helium white dwarf. We first present a type-I X-ray burst from 2S 0918–549 with a long duration of 40 min. We show that this burst is naturally explained by accretion of pure helium at the inferred accretion rate of ~ times the Eddington accretion rate. At higher accretion rates of ~ Eddington, hydrogen is required to explain long duration bursts. However, at low rates the long duration is due to the large amount of helium that accumulates prior to the burst. We show that it is possible to form a helium white dwarf donor in an ultracompact binary if accretion starts during the first ascent of the giant branch, when the core is predominantly made of helium. Furthermore, this scenario naturally explains the high neon-to-oxgen ratio, without requiring a CO or ONe white dwarf companion. The only observational aspect of 2S 0918–549 that we cannot explain is the absence of helium lines in the optical spectrum. Model calculations of optical accretion disk spectra need to be carried out in order to obtain limits on the helium abundance.
Key words: X-rays: binaries / X-rays: bursts / X-rays: individuals: 2S 0918–549=4U 0919-54 / stars: evolution
© ESO, 2005