The Science: X-ray Binary Star Systems
Many objects in the sky emit X-rays. The x-rays originate from regions
of gas that are at high temperatures. Astronomers are interested in
how the gas gets this hot, and what happens when it does.
One common type of object that emits x-rays are binary star systems. These
systems consist of two stars that orbit around each other. Sometimes,
one star is a compact object, such as a black hole or neutron star. This
compact object orbits close enough to the normal star that gas flows
from the normal star to the compact star. As the gas gets close to the
comapct star, the gas heats up and emits x-rays. The more gas there
is, the more x-rays are emitted.
In this lesson, you will examine data from the X-ray source
GX301-2 taken by the
RossiX-ray Timing Explorer (http://heasarc.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/xte/learning_center/). GX301-2 is an X-ray binary system consisting
of a supergiant blue star and a neutron star. In some X-ray binaries, the
intensity of the X-rays varies regularly as the normal star moves in its orbit
around the compact object. In this investigation you will explore
these variations, find a period for the variations, and determine why
the intensity of the X-rays varies.
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