X-ray variability of the HMXB Cen X-3: evidence for inhomogeneous accretion flows

Sanjurjo-Ferrin, G.; Torrejon, J. M.; Postnov, K.; Oskinova, L.; Rodes-Roca, J. J.; Bernabeu, G.

Cen X-3 is a compact high mass X-ray binary likely powered by Roche lobe overflow. We present a phase-resolved X-ray spectral and timing analysis of two pointed XMM-Newton observations. The first one took place during a normal state of the source, when it has a luminosity LX ~ 1036 erg/s. This observation covered orbital phases φ = 0.00 - 0.37, i.e. the egress from the eclipse. The egress lightcurve is highly structured, showing distinctive intervals. We argue that different intervals correspond to the emergence of different emitting structures. The lightcurve analysis enables us to estimate the size of such structures around the compact star, the most conspicuous of which has a size ~ 0.3R*, of the order of the Roche lobe radius. During the egress, the equivalent width of Fe emission lines, from highly ionized species, decreases as the X-ray continuum grows. On the other hand, the equivalent width of the Fe Kα line, from near neutral Fe, strengthens. This line is likely formed due to the X-ray illumination of the accretion stream. The second observation was taken when the source was 10 times X-ray brighter and covered the orbital phases φ = 0.36 - 0.80. The X-ray lightcurve in the high state shows dips. These dips are not caused by absorption but can be due to instabilities in the accretion stream. The typical dip duration, of about 1000 s, is much longer than the timescale attributed to the accretion of the clumpy stellar wind of the massive donor star, but is similar to the viscous timescale at the inner radius of the accretion disk.

Preprint (sanjurjo-ferrin+2020-CenX-3.pdf, 3.7MB)

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