Credit: A. Smale and P. Boyd (NASA/GSFC); K. Smale (NASA/GSFC/SPS)
Compact Binary Quantization?
Compact binaries, consisting of a "normal" low mass star and a compact
object (either a neutron star or black hole), are among the brightest X-ray
sources in the sky, and also among the most active X-ray emitting objects,
switching from faint states to bright states, apparently irregularly. Now,
thanks to continuous monitoring with the All
Sky Monitor (ASM) on the Rossi X-ray
Timing Explorer (RXTE), astronomers Padi Boyd and Alan Smale have
discovered an underlying pattern in the apparently random variations in
X-ray brightness for 3 important compact binaries. Boyd and Smale found
that the number of days between low points of emission can, for each
source, be described as a series of integer multiples of some fundamental
underlying number. For example, the neutron star binary Cygnus X-2 has an
orbital period of 9.8 days. Boyd and Smale found that the time between
minimum X-ray brightness is always a whole-number multiple of 9.8 days --
for example 77.7 days, 58.8 days or 49 days, which are 8, 6 and 5 times
9.8. However the multiple that will come next cannot be predicted. Boyd
and Smale also looked at 2 black hole binary systems, Cygnus X-3 and LMC
X-3, and found that while some integer multiple relation did exist for
these systems, the integer multiple was not related to the orbital period.
The image above is an artist's representation
of the mass transfer in an X-ray binary system which could produce
variations characterized by random integer multiples of a single constant.
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Page Author: Dr. Michael F.
Last modified July 2, 2001