Publication archive

Publication archive

Evidence has mounted in recent decades that outflows of matter and energy from the central few parsecs of our Galaxy have shaped the observed structure of the Milky Way on a variety of larger scales. On scales of 15 parsecs, the Galactic Centre has bipolar lobes that can be seen in both the X-ray and radio parts of the spectrum, indicating broadly collimated outflows from the centre, directed perpendicular to the Galactic plane. On larger scales, approaching the size of the Galaxy itself, γ-ray observations have revealed the so-called 'Fermi bubble' features, implying that our Galactic Centre has had a period of active energy release leading to the production of relativistic particles that now populate huge cavities on both sides of the Galactic plane. The X-ray maps from the ROSAT all-sky survey show that the edges of these cavities close to the Galactic plane are bright in X-rays. At intermediate scales (about 150 parsecs), radio astronomers have observed the Galactic Centre lobe, an apparent bubble of emission seen only at positive Galactic latitudes, but again indicative of energy injection from near the Galactic Centre. Here we report prominent X-ray structures on these intermediate scales (hundreds of parsecs) above and below the plane, which appear to connect the Galactic Centre region to the Fermi bubbles. We propose that these structures, which we term the Galactic Centre 'chimneys', constitute exhaust channels through which energy and mass, injected by a quasi-continuous train of episodic events at the Galactic Centre, are transported from the central few parsecs to the base of the Fermi bubbles.
Published: 21 March 2019
The concordance model (Λ cold dark matter (ΛCDM) model, where Λ is the cosmological constant) reproduces the main current cosmological observations1,2,3,4 assuming the validity of general relativity at all scales and epochs and the presence of CDM and of Λ, equivalent to dark energy with a constant density in space and time. However, the ΛCDM model is poorly tested in the redshift interval between the farthest observed type Ia supernovae5 and the cosmic microwave background. We present measurements of the expansion rate of the Universe based on a Hubble diagram of quasars. Quasars are the most luminous persistent sources in the Universe, observed up to redshifts of z ≈ 7.5 (refs. 6,7). We estimate their distances following a method developed by our group8,9,10, based on the X-ray and ultraviolet emission of the quasars. The distance modulus/redshift relation of quasars at z < 1.4 is in agreement with that of supernovae and with the concordance model. However, a deviation from the ΛCDM model emerges at higher redshift, with a statistical significance of ~4σ. If an evolution of the dark energy equation of state is allowed, the data suggest dark energy density increasing with time.
Published: 28 January 2019
The tidal forces close to massive black holes can rip apart stars that come too close to them. As the resulting stellar debris spirals toward the black hole, it heats up and emits x-rays. We report observations of a stable 131-s x-ray quasi-periodic oscillation from the tidal disruption event ASASSN-14li. Assuming the black hole mass indicated by host galaxy scaling relations, this implies that (i) the periodicity originates from close to the event horizon, and (ii) the black hole is rapidly spinning. Our findings demonstrate that tidal disruption events can generate quasi-periodic oscillations which encode information about the physical properties of their black holes.
Published: 09 January 2019
Based on a theoretical selection of pulsars as candidates for detection at X-ray energies, we present an analysis of archival X-ray observations performed with Chandra and XMM-Newton of PSR J1747–2958 (the pulsar in the "Mouse" nebula), PSR J2021+3651 (the pulsar in the "Dragonfly" nebula), and PSR J1826–1256. X-ray pulsations from PSR J1747–2958 and PSR J1826–1256 are detected for the first time, and a previously reported hint of an X-ray pulsation from PSR J2021+3651 is confirmed with a higher significance. We analyze these pulsars' spectra in regard to the theoretically predicted energy distribution, finding a remarkable agreement, and provide here a refined calculation of the model parameters taking into account the newly derived X-ray spectral data.
Published: 21 November 2018
We report the discovery of a flaring X-ray source 7" from the center of the globular cluster NGC 6540 obtained during the EXTraS project devoted to a systematic search for variability in archival data of the XMM-Newton satellite. The source had a quiescent X-ray luminosity on the order of ~1032 erg s-1 in the 0.5–10 keV range (for a distance of NGC 6540 of 4 kpc) and showed a flare lasting about 300 s. During the flare, the X-ray luminosity increased by more than a factor 40, with a total emitted energy of ~1036 erg. These properties, as well as Hubble Space Telescope photometry of the possible optical counterparts, suggest the identification with a chromospherically active binary in the cluster. However, the flare luminosity is significantly higher than what is commonly observed in stellar flares of such a short duration, leaving open the possibility of other interpretations.
Published: 11 August 2018
Circumstantial evidence suggests that magnetism and enhanced X-ray emission are likely correlated in early B-type stars: similar fractions of them (~10%) are strong and hard X-ray sources and possess strong magnetic fields. It is also known that some B-type stars have spots on their surface. Yet up to now no X-ray activity associated with spots on early-type stars was detected. In this Letter we report the detection of a magnetic field on the B2V star ρ Oph A. Previously, we assessed that the X-ray activity of this star is associated with a surface spot, herewith we establish its magnetic origin. We analyze spectra of ρ Oph A obtained with the FORS2 spectrograph at ESO Very Large Telescope (VLT) at two epochs, and detect a longitudinal component of the magnetic field of the order of ~500 G in one of the datasets. The detection of the magnetic field only at one epoch can be explained by stellar rotation which is also invoked to explain observed periodic X-ray activity. From archival HARPS ESO VLT high resolution spectra we derived the fundamental stellar parameters of ρ Oph A and further constrained its age. We conclude that ρ Oph A provides strong evidence for the presence of active X-ray emitting regions on young magnetized early type stars.
Published: 13 February 2018
We examine X-rays from radiatively cooled shocks, focusing on how their thin-shell instability reduces X-ray emission. For 2D simulations of collision between equal expanding winds, we carry out a parameter study of such instability as a function of the ratio of radiative versus adiabatic-expansion cooling lengths. In the adiabatic regime, the extended cooling layer suppresses instability, leading to planar shock compression with X-ray luminosity that follows closely the expected ( LX∼M_dot2 ) quadratic scaling with mass-loss rate M_dot. In the strongly radiative limit, the X-ray emission now follows an expected linear scaling with mass-loss (LX∼M_dot), but the instability deforms the shock compression into extended shear layers with oblique shocks along fingers of cooled, dense material. The spatial dispersion of shock thermalization limits strong X-ray emission to the tips and troughs of the fingers, and so reduces the X-ray emission (here by about a factor 1/50) below what is expected from analytic radiative-shock models without unstable structure. Between these two limits, X-ray emission can switch between a high-state associated with extended shock compression, and a low-state characterized by extensive shear. Further study is needed to clarify the origin of this ‘shear mixing reduction factor’ in X-ray emission, and its dependence on parameters like the shock Mach number.
Published: 25 January 2014
We report on the first detection of a global change in the X-ray emitting properties of a wind–wind collision, thanks to XMM-Newton observations of the massive Small Magellenic Cloud (SMC) system HD 5980. While its light curve had remained unchanged between 2000 and 2005, the X-ray flux has now increased by a factor of ~2.5, and slightly hardened. The new observations also extend the observational coverage over the entire orbit, pinpointing the light-curve shape. It has not varied much despite the large overall brightening, and a tight correlation of fluxes with orbital separation is found without any hysteresis effect. Moreover, the absence of eclipses and of absorption effects related to orientation suggests a large size for the X-ray emitting region. Simple analytical models of the wind–wind collision, considering the varying wind properties of the eruptive component in HD 5980, are able to reproduce the recent hardening and the flux-separation relationship, at least qualitatively, but they predict a hardening at apastron and little change in mean flux, contrary to observations. The brightness change could then possibly be related to a recently theorized phenomenon linked to the varying strength of thin-shell instabilities in shocked wind regions.
Published: 02 February 2018
Auroral hot spots are observed across the Universe at different scales and mark the coupling between a surrounding plasma environment and an atmosphere. Within our own Solar System, Jupiter possesses the only resolvable example of this large-scale energy transfer. Jupiter's northern X-ray aurora is concentrated into a hot spot, which is located at the most poleward regions of the planet's aurora and pulses either periodically or irregularly. X-ray emission line spectra demonstrate that Jupiter's northern hot spot is produced by high charge-state oxygen, sulfur and/or carbon ions with an energy of tens of MeV that are undergoing charge exchange. Observations instead failed to reveal a similar feature in the south. Here, we report the existence of a persistent southern X-ray hot spot. Surprisingly, this large-scale southern auroral structure behaves independently of its northern counterpart. Using XMM-Newton and Chandra X-ray campaigns, performed in May–June 2016 and March 2007, we show that Jupiter's northern and southern spots each exhibit different characteristics, such as different periodic pulsations and uncorrelated changes in brightness. These observations imply that highly energetic, non-conjugate magnetospheric processes sometimes drive the polar regions of Jupiter's dayside magnetosphere. This is in contrast to current models of X-ray generation for Jupiter. Understanding the behaviour and drivers of Jupiter's pair of hot spots is critical to the use of X-rays as diagnostics of the wide range of rapidly rotating celestial bodies that exhibit these auroral phenomena.
Published: 30 October 2017
We present the results of a 140 ks XMM-Newton observation of the B2 star ρ Oph A. The star has exhibited strong X-ray variability: a cusp-shaped increase of rate, similar to that which we partially observed in 2013, and a bright flare. These events are separated in time by about 104 ks, which likely correspond to the rotational period of the star (1.2 days). Time resolved spectroscopy of the X-ray spectra shows that the first event is caused by an increase of the plasma emission measure, while the second increase of rate is a major flare with temperatures in excess of 60 MK (kT ~ 5 keV). From the analysis of its rise, we infer a magnetic field of ≥300 G and a size of the flaring region of ~ 1.4 − 1.9 × 1011 cm, which corresponds to ~25%–30% of the stellar radius. We speculate that either an intrinsic magnetism that produces a hot spot on its surface or an unknown low mass companion are the source of such X-rays and variability. A hot spot of magnetic origin should be a stable structure over a time span of ≥2.5 yr, and suggests an overall large scale dipolar magnetic field that produces an extended feature on the stellar surface. In the second scenario, a low mass unknown companion is the emitter of X-rays and it should orbit extremely close to the surface of the primary in a locked spin-orbit configuration, almost on the verge of collapsing onto the primary. As such, the X-ray activity of the secondary star would be enhanced by its young age, and the tight orbit as in RS Cvn systems. In both cases ρ Oph would constitute an extreme system that is worthy of further investigation.
Published: 21 June 2017
The brightness of an active galactic nucleus is set by the gas falling onto it from the galaxy, and the gas infall rate is regulated by the brightness of the active galactic nucleus; this feedback loop is the process by which supermassive black holes in the centres of galaxies may moderate the growth of their hosts. Gas outflows (in the form of disk winds) release huge quantities of energy into the interstellar medium, potentially clearing the surrounding gas. The most extreme (in terms of speed and energy) of these–the ultrafast outflows–are the subset of X-ray-detected outflows with velocities higher than 10,000 kilometres per second, believed to originate in relativistic (that is, near the speed of light) disk winds a few hundred gravitational radii from the black hole. The absorption features produced by these outflows are variable, but no clear link has been found between the behaviour of the X-ray continuum and the velocity or optical depth of the outflows, owing to the long timescales of quasar variability. Here we report the observation of multiple absorption lines from an extreme ultrafast gas flow in the X-ray spectrum of the active galactic nucleus IRAS 13224−3809, at 0.236 ± 0.006 times the speed of light (71,000 kilometres per second), where the absorption is strongly anti-correlated with the emission of X-rays from the inner regions of the accretion disk. If the gas flow is identified as a genuine outflow then it is in the fastest five per cent of such winds, and its variability is hundreds of times faster than in other variable winds, allowing us to observe in hours what would take months in a quasar. We find X-ray spectral signatures of the wind simultaneously in both low- and high-energy detectors, suggesting a single ionized outflow, linking the low- and high-energy absorption lines.

[Remainder of abstract truncated due to character limitations]

Published: 02 March 2017
Published online: 5 December 2016

The neutron star (NS) low-mass X-ray binary (LMXB) the Rapid Burster (RB; MXB 1730-335) uniquely shows both Type I and Type II X-ray bursts. The origin of the latter is ill-understood but has been linked to magnetospheric gating of the accretion flow. We present a spectral analysis of simultaneous Swift, NuSTAR and XMM-Newton observations of the RB during its 2015 outburst. Although a broad Fe K line has been observed before, the high quality of our observations allows us to model this line using relativistic reflection models for the first time. We find that the disc is strongly truncated at 41.8+6.7-5.3 gravitational radii (~87 km), which supports magnetospheric Type II burst models and strongly disfavours models involving instabilities at the innermost stable circular orbit. Assuming that the RB magnetic field indeed truncates the disc, we find B = (6.2 ± 1.5) × 108 G, larger than typically inferred for NS LMXBs. In addition, we find a low inclination (i=29°±2°). Finally, we comment on the origin of the Comptonized and thermal components in the RB spectrum.

Published: 01 March 2017
Ultraluminous x-ray sources (ULXs) in nearby galaxies shine brighter than any x-ray source in our Galaxy. ULXs are usually modeled as stellar-mass black holes (BHs) accreting at very high rates or intermediate-mass BHs. We present observations showing that NGC 5907 ULX is instead an x-ray accreting neutron star (NS) with a spin period evolving from 1.43 seconds in 2003 to 1.13 seconds in 2014. It has an isotropic peak luminosity of ~1000 times the Eddington limit for a NS at 17.1 megaparsec. Standard accretion models fail to explain its luminosity, even assuming beamed emission, but a strong multipolar magnetic field can describe its properties. These findings suggest that other extreme ULXs (x-ray luminosity ≥1041 erg second -1) might harbor NSs.
Published: 20 February 2017
Accreting stellar-mass black holes often show a 'Type-C' quasi-periodic oscillation (QPO) in their X-ray flux and an iron emission line in their X-ray spectrum. The iron line is generated through continuum photons reflecting off the accretion disc, and its shape is distorted by relativistic motion of the orbiting plasma and the gravitational pull of the black hole. The physical origin of the QPO has long been debated, but is often attributed to Lense–Thirring precession, a General Relativistic effect causing the inner flow to precess as the spinning black hole twists up the surrounding space–time. This predicts a characteristic rocking of the iron line between red- and blueshift as the receding and approaching sides of the disc are respectively illuminated. Here we report on XMM–Newton and NuSTAR observations of the black hole binary H1743−322 in which the line energy varies systematically over the ~4 s QPO cycle (3.70σ significance), as predicted. This provides strong evidence that the QPO is produced by Lense–Thirring precession, constituting the first detection of this effect in the strong gravitation regime. There are however elements of our results harder to explain, with one section of data behaving differently than all the others. Our result enables the future application of tomographic techniques to map the inner regions of black hole accretion discs.
Published: 13 July 2016
Published online 27 April 2016

Ultraluminous X-ray sources are extragalactic, off-nucleus, point sources in galaxies, and have X-ray luminosities in excess of 3 × 1039 ergs per second. They are thought to be powered by accretion onto a compact object. Possible explanations include accretion onto neutron stars with strong magnetic fields, onto stellar-mass black holes (of up to 20 solar masses) at or in excess of the classical Eddington limit, or onto intermediate-mass black holes (103–105 solar masses). The lack of sufficient energy resolution in previous analyses has prevented an unambiguous identification of any emission or absorption lines in the X-ray band, thereby precluding a detailed analysis of the accretion flow. Here we report the presence of X-ray emission lines arising from highly ionized iron, oxygen and neon with a cumulative significance in excess of five standard deviations, together with blueshifted (about 0.2 times light velocity) absorption lines of similar significance, in the high-resolution X-ray spectra of the ultraluminous X-ray sources NGC 1313 X-1 and NGC 5408 X-1. The blueshifted absorption lines must occur in a fast-outflowing gas, whereas the emission lines originate in slow-moving gas around the source. We conclude that the compact object in each source is surrounded by powerful winds with an outflow velocity of about 0.2 times that of light, as predicted by models of accreting supermassive black holes and hyper-accreting stellar-mass black holes.

Published: 28 April 2016
First published online 31 December 2015

During a search for coherent signals in the X-ray archival data of XMM-Newton, we discovered a modulation at 1.2 s in 3XMM J004301.4+413017 (3X J0043), a source lying in the direction of an external arm of M 31. This short period indicates a neutron star (NS). Between 2000 and 2013, the position of 3X J0043 was imaged by public XMM–Newton observations 35 times. The analysis of these data allowed us to detect an orbital modulation at 1.27 d and study the long-term properties of the source. The emission of the pulsar was rather hard (most spectra are described by a power law with Γ < 1) and, assuming the distance to M 31, the 0.3–10 keV luminosity was variable, from ~3 × 1037 to 2 × 1038 erg s-1. The analysis of optical data shows that, while 3X J0043 is likely associated to a globular cluster in M 31, a counterpart with V ≳ 22 outside the cluster cannot be excluded. Considering our findings, there are two main viable scenarios for 3X J0043: a peculiar low-mass X-ray binary, similar to 4U 1822−37 or 4U 1626−67, or an intermediate-mass X-ray binary resembling Her X−1. Regardless of the exact nature of the system, 3X J0043 is the first accreting NS in M 31 in which the spin period has been detected.

Published: 21 March 2016
We present a new method to test the ΛCDM cosmological model and to estimate cosmological parameters based on the nonlinear relation between the ultraviolet and X-ray luminosities of quasars. We built a data set of 1138 quasars by merging several samples from the literature with X-ray measurements at 2 keV and SDSS photometry, which was used to estimate the extinction-corrected 2500 Å flux. We obtained three main results: (1) we checked the nonlinear relation between X-ray and UV luminosities in small redshift bins up to z~6, confirming that the relation holds at all redshifts with the same slope; (2) we built a Hubble diagram for quasars up to z~6, which is well matched to that of supernovae in the common z = 0–1.4 redshift interval and extends the test of the cosmological model up to z~ 6; and (3) we showed that this nonlinear relation is a powerful tool for estimating cosmological parameters. Using the present data and assuming a ΛCDM model, we obtain ΩM = 0.22-0.08+0.10 and ΩΛ= 0.92-0.30+0.18M = 0.28 ± 0.04 and ΩΛ = 0.73 ± 0.08 from a joint quasar-SNe fit). Much more precise measurements will be achieved with future surveys. A few thousand SDSS quasars already have serendipitous X-ray observations from Chandra or XMM-Newton, and at least 100,000 quasars with UV and X-ray data will be made available by the extended ROentgen Survey with an Imaging Telescope Array all-sky survey in a few years. The Euclid, Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, and Advanced Telescope for High ENergy Astrophysics surveys will further increase the sample size to at least several hundred thousand. Our simulations show that these samples will provide tight constraints on the cosmological parameters and will allow us to test for possible deviations from the standard model with higher precision than is possible today.
Published: 03 December 2015
Observations of the cosmic microwave background indicate that baryons account for 5 per cent of the Universe's total energy content. In the local Universe, the census of all observed baryons falls short of this estimate by a factor of two. Cosmological simulations indicate that the missing baryons have not condensed into virialized haloes, but reside throughout the filaments of the cosmic web (where matter density is larger than average) as a low-density plasma at temperatures of 105−107 kelvin, known as the warm–hot intergalactic medium. There have been previous claims of the detection of warm–hot baryons along the line of sight to distant blazars and of hot gas between interacting clusters. These observations were, however, unable to trace the large-scale filamentary structure, or to estimate the total amount of warm–hot baryons in a representative volume of the Universe. Here we report X-ray observations of filamentary structures of gas at 107 kelvin associated with the galaxy cluster Abell 2744. Previous observations of this cluster were unable to resolve and remove coincidental X-ray point sources. After subtracting these, we find hot gas structures that are coherent over scales of 8 megaparsecs. The filaments coincide with over-densities of galaxies and dark matter, with 5–10 per cent of their mass in baryonic gas. This gas has been heated up by the cluster's gravitational pull and is now feeding its core. Our findings strengthen evidence for a picture of the Universe in which a large fraction of the missing baryons reside in the filaments of the cosmic web.
Published: 03 December 2015
Winds outflowing from active galactic nuclei (AGNs) may carry significant amounts of mass and energy out to their host galaxies. In this paper we report the detection of a sub-relativistic outflow observed in the narrow line Seyfert 1 galaxy IRAS 17020+4544 as a series of absorption lines corresponding to at least five absorption components with an unprecedented wide range of associated column densities and ionization levels and velocities in the range of 23,000–33,000 km s−1 , detected at X-ray high spectral resolution (E/ΔE ~ 1000) with the ESA's observatory XMM-Newton. The charge states of the material constituting the wind clearly indicate a range of low to moderate ionization states in the outflowing gas and column densities that are significantly lower than observed in highly ionized ultra-fast outflows. We estimate that at least one of the outflow components may carry sufficient energy to substantially suppress star formation and heat the gas in the host galaxy. IRAS 17020+4544 therefore provides an interesting example of feedback by a moderately luminous AGN that is hosted in a spiral galaxy, a case barely envisaged in most evolution models, which often predict that feedback processes take place in massive elliptical galaxies hosting luminous quasars in a post-merger phase.
Published: 06 November 2015
Tidal forces close to massive black holes can violently disrupt stars that make a close approach. These extreme events are discovered via bright X-ray and optical/ultraviolet flares in galactic centres. Prior studies based on modelling decaying flux trends have been able to estimate broad properties, such as the mass accretion rate. Here we report the detection of flows of hot, ionized gas in high-resolution X-ray spectra of a nearby tidal disruption event, ASASSN-14li in the galaxy PGC 043234. Variability within the absorption-dominated spectra indicates that the gas is relatively close to the black hole. Narrow linewidths indicate that the gas does not stretch over a large range of radii, giving a low volume filling factor. Modest outflow speeds of a few hundred kilometres per second are observed; these are below the escape speed from the radius set by variability. The gas flow is consistent with a rotating wind from the inner, super-Eddington region of a nascent accretion disk, or with a filament of disrupted stellar gas near to the apocentre of an elliptical orbit. Flows of this sort are predicted by fundamental analytical theory and more recent numerical simulations.
Published: 23 October 2015
18-Oct-2019 09:36 UT

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