Modeling the Light Curve of an X-ray Binary
Artist's conception of an X-ray binary,
showing the normal star and disk of gas surrounding the neutron
star. X-rays are emitted in the region nearest the neutron star.
X-ray binaries are two-star systems composed of one normal star and a
"compact star" (usually a neutron star or a black hole). X-ray
binaries emit x-rays because gas from the normal star flows
toward the compact star . As it gets near the compact star, the gas
density and pressure increase, causing a rise in temperature of the
gas. The gas gets hot enough (a few million degrees) to glow in
x-rays. This leads us to a fundamental concept.
- The more gas there is, the brighter an x-ray binary will shine in
By brightness, we also mean the intensity of the x-rays. Since most
x-ray satellites count the number of x-rays from a source, we would
also say that more gas leads to more x-rays.
The brightness of some x-ray sources is constant. But the brightness of
others can vary.
In this exercise, you will explore why the brightness of an x-ray
binary might vary. Remember the Fundamental Concept given above.
In the above light curve, at which point must there be more gas around
the neutron star: a or b?
Why would there be more gas at that point?
What would cause the x-ray intensity to be faint sometimes and bright
at other times?
Which of the following pictures best illustrates the motion of one of the
stars near the other to account for the behavior shown in the above
You now have an idea for why the x-ray intensity from an x-ray binary
might vary. Our next step is to become familiar with the Hera
software and a light curve data set for GX301-2. After that, we will
look for a period in the data.