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Publication archive

First published online 19 August 2015.

The deepest XMM-Newton mosaic map of the central 1°.5 of the Galaxy is presented, including a total of about 1.5 Ms of EPIC-pn cleaned exposures in the central 15 arcsec and about 200 ks outside. This compendium presents broad-band X-ray continuum maps, soft X-ray intensity maps, a decomposition into spectral components and a comparison of the X-ray maps with emission at other wavelengths. Newly discovered extended features, such as supernova remnants (SNRs), superbubbles and X-ray filaments are reported. We provide an atlas of extended features within ±1° of Sgr A*. We discover the presence of a coherent X-ray-emitting region peaking around G0.1−0.1 and surrounded by the ring of cold, mid-IR-emitting material known from previous work as the 'Radio Arc Bubble' and with the addition of the X-ray data now appears to be a candidate superbubble. Sgr A's bipolar lobes show sharp edges, suggesting that they could be the remnant, collimated by the circumnuclear disc, of an SN explosion that created the recently discovered magnetar, SGR J1745−2900. Soft X-ray features, most probably from SNRs, are observed to fill holes in the dust distribution, and to indicate a direct interaction between SN explosions and Galactic centre (GC) molecular clouds. We also discover warm plasma at high Galactic latitude, showing a sharp edge to its distribution that correlates with the location of known radio/mid-IR features such as the 'GC Lobe'. These features might be associated with an inhomogeneous hot 'atmosphere' over the GC, perhaps fed by continuous or episodic outflows of mass and energy from the GC region.

Published: 12 October 2015
The evolution of galaxies is connected to the growth of supermassive black holes in their centers. During the quasar phase, a huge luminosity is released as matter falls onto the black hole, and radiation-driven winds can transfer most of this energy back to the host galaxy. Over five different epochs, we detected the signatures of a nearly spherical stream of highly ionized gas in the broadband x-ray spectra of the luminous quasar PDS 456. This persistent wind is expelled at relativistic speeds from the inner accretion disk, and its wide aperture suggests an effective coupling with the ambient gas. The outflow's kinetic power larger than 1046 ergs per second is enough to provide the feedback required by models of black hole and host galaxy coevolution.
Published: 20 February 2015
Supermassive black holes (SMBHs) are found ubiquitously in large, bulge-dominated galaxies throughout the local universe, yet little is known about their presence and properties in bulgeless and low-mass galaxies. This is a significant deficiency, since the mass distribution and occupation fraction of nonstellar black holes provide important observational constraints on SMBH seed formation theories and many dwarf galaxies have not undergone major mergers that would erase information on their original black hole population. Using data from the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, we discovered hundreds of bulgeless and dwarf galaxies that display mid-infrared signatures of extremely hot dust highly suggestive of powerful accreting massive black holes, despite having no signatures of black hole activity at optical wavelengths. Here we report, in our first follow-up X-ray investigation of this population, that the irregular dwarf galaxy J132932.41+323417.0 (z = 0.0156) contains a hard, unresolved X-ray source detected by XMM-Newton with luminosity L2-10 keV = 2.4 × 1040 erg s-1, over two orders of magnitude greater than that expected from star formation, strongly suggestive of the presence of an accreting massive black hole. While enhanced X-ray emission and hot dust can be produced in extremely low metallicity environments, J132932.41+323417.0 is not extremely metal poor (≈40% solar). With a stellar mass of 2.0 × 108 M, this galaxy is similar in mass to the Small Magellanic Cloud, and is one of the lowest mass galaxies with evidence for a massive nuclear black hole currently known.
Published: 18 December 2014
The bursting pulsar GRO J1744-28 is a Galactic low-mass X-ray binary that distinguishes itself by displaying type-II X-ray bursts: brief, bright flashes of X-ray emission that likely arise from spasmodic accretion. Combined with its coherent 2.1 Hz X-ray pulsations and relatively high estimated magnetic field, it is a particularly interesting source to study the physics of accretion flows around neutron stars. Here we report on ChandraHigh Energy Transmission Grating observations obtained near the peak of its bright 2014 accretion outburst. Spectral analysis suggests the presence of a broad iron emission line centered at E1 ≃ 6.7 keV. Fits with a disk reflection model yield an inclination angle of i ≃ 52° and an inner disk radius of Rin ≃85 GM/c², which is much further out than typically found for neutron star low-mass X-ray binaries. Assuming that the disk is truncated at the magnetospheric radius of the neutron star, we estimate a magnetic field strength of B ≃ (2-6) × 1010 G. Furthermore, we identify an absorption feature near ≃ 6.85 keV that could correspond to blue-shifted Fe XXV and point to a fast disk wind with an outflow velocity of vout ≃ (7.5-8.2) × 10³ km s-1 (≃ 0.025c-0.027c). If the covering fraction and filling factor are large, this wind could be energetically important and perhaps account for the fact that the companion star lost significant mass while the magnetic field of the neutron star remained strong.
Published: 03 November 2014
GRB 130925A is a peculiar event characterized by an extremely long gamma-ray duration (~7 ks), as well as dramatic flaring in the X-rays for ~20 ks. After this period, its X-ray afterglow shows an atypical soft spectrum with photon index Γ ~ 4, as observed by Swift and Chandra, until ~107 s, when XMM-Newton observations uncover a harder spectral shape with Γ ~ 2.5, commonly observed in gamma-ray burst (GRB) afterglows. We find that two distinct emission components are needed to explain the X-ray observations: a thermal component, which dominates the X-ray emission for several weeks, and a non-thermal component, consistent with a typical afterglow. A forward shock model well describes the broadband (from radio to X-rays) afterglow spectrum at various epochs. It requires an ambient medium with a very low-density wind profile, consistent with that expected from a low-metallicity blue supergiant (BSG). The thermal component has a remarkably constant size and a total energy consistent with those expected by a hot cocoon surrounding the relativistic jet. We argue that the features observed in this GRB (its ultralong duration, the thermal cocoon, and the low-density wind environment) are associated with a low metallicity BSG progenitor and, thus, should characterize the class of ultralong GRBs.
Published: 12 July 2014
X-rays from massive stars are ubiquitous yet not clearly understood. In an XMM-Newton observation devoted to observing the first site of star formation in the ρ Ophiuchi dark cloud, we detect smoothly variable X-ray emission from the B2IV+B2V system of ρ Ophiuchi. We tentatively assign the emission to the primary component. The light curve of the pn camera shows a first phase of low, almost steady rate, then a rise phase of duration of 10 ks, followed by a high rate phase. The variability is seen primarily in the band 1.0−8.0 keV while little variability is detected below 1 keV. The spectral analysis of the three phases reveals the presence of a hot component at 3.0 keV that adds up to two relatively cold components at 0.9 keV and 2.2 keV. We explain the smooth variability with the emergence of an extended active region on the surface of the primary star as being due to its fast rotation (νsin i ~ 315 km s-1). We estimate that the region has a diameter in the range 0.5−0.6 R. The hard X-ray emission and its variability hint at a magnetic origin, as suggested for a few other late-O through early-B type stars. We also discuss an alternative explanation based on the emergence from occultation of a young (5−10 Myr) low mass companion that is bright and hot in X-rays.
Published: 05 July 2014
We detect a weak unidentified emission line at E = (3.55-3.57) ± 0.03 keV in a stacked XMM-Newton spectrum of 73 galaxy clusters spanning a redshift range 0.01-0.35. When the full sample is divided into three subsamples (Perseus, Centaurus+Ophiuchus+Coma, and all others), the line is seen at >3-sigma statistical significance in all three independent MOS spectra and the PN "all others" spectrum. It is also detected in the Chandra spectra of the Perseus Cluster. However, it is very weak and located within 50-110 eV of several known lines. The detection is at the limit of the current instrument capabilities. We argue that there should be no atomic transitions in thermal plasma at this energy. An intriguing possibility is the decay of sterile neutrino, a long-sought dark matter particle candidate. Assuming that all dark matter is in sterile neutrinos with ms = 2E = 7.1 keV, our detection corresponds to a neutrino decay rate consistent with previous upper limits. However, based on the cluster masses and distances, the line in Perseus is much brighter than expected in this model, significantly deviating from other subsamples. This appears to be because of an anomalously bright line at E = 3.62 keV in Perseus, which could be an Ar XVII dielectronic recombination line, although its emissivity would have to be 30 times the expected value and physically difficult to understand. Another alternative is the above anomaly in the Ar line combined with the nearby 3.51 keV K line also exceeding expectation by a factor of 10-20. Confirmation with Astro-H will be critical to determine the nature of this new line.
Published: 25 June 2014
Strong lensing has been employed extensively to obtain accurate mass measurements within the Einstein radius. We here use strong lensing to probe mass distributions beyond the Einstein radius. We consider SL2S J08544-0121, a galaxy group at redshift z = 0.35 with a bimodal light distribution and with a strong lensing system located at one of the two luminosity peaks separated by ~54". The main arc and the counter-image of the strong lensing system are located at ~5" and ~8" from the lens galaxy centre. We find that a simple elliptical isothermal potential cannot satisfactorily reproduce the strong lensing observations. However, with a mass model for the group built from its light-distribution with a smoothing factor s and a mass-to-light ratio M/L, we obtain an accurate reproduction of the observations. We find M/L = 98 ± 27 (i band, solar units, not corrected for evolution) and s = 20" ±  9 (2-sigma confidence level). Moreover, we use weak lensing to independently estimate the mass of the group, and find a consistent M/L in the range 66-146 (1-sigma confidence level). This suggests that light is a good tracer of mass. Interestingly, this also shows that a strong lensing-only analysis (on scales of ~10") can constrain the properties of nearby objects (on scales of ~100"). We characterise the type of perturbed strong lensing system that allows such an analysis: a non dominant strong lensing system used as a test particle to probe the main potential. This kind of analysis needs to be validated with other systems because it could provide a quick way of probing the mass distribution of clusters and groups. This is particularly relevant in the context of forthcoming wide-field surveys, which will yield thousands of strong lenses, some of which perturbed enough to pursue the analysis proposed in this paper.
Published: 25 December 2010
We report on the X-ray observation of a strong lensing selected group, SL2S J08544-0121, with a total mass of 2.4 ± 0.6 × 1014 MSun which revealed a separation of 124 ± 20 kpc between the X-ray emitting collisional gas and the collisionless galaxies and dark matter (DM), traced by strong lensing. This source allows to put an order of magnitude estimate to the upper limit to the interaction cross-section of DM of 10 cm2 g−1. It is the lowest mass object found to date showing a DM–baryons separation, and it reveals that the detection of bullet-like objects is not rare and confined to mergers of massive objects opening the possibility of a statistical detection of DM–baryons separation with future surveys.
Published: 07 June 2014
X-ray emission from stars much more massive than the Sun was discovered only 35 years ago. Such stars drive fast stellar winds where shocks can develop, and it is commonly assumed that the X-rays emerge from the shock-heated plasma. Many massive stars additionally pulsate. However, hitherto it was neither theoretically predicted nor observed that these pulsations would affect their X-ray emission. All X-ray pulsars known so far are associated with degenerate objects, either neutron stars or white dwarfs. Here we report the discovery of pulsating X-rays from a non-degenerate object, the massive B-type star Xi1 CMa. This star is a variable of beta Cep-type and has a strong magnetic field. Our observations with the X-ray Multi-Mirror (XMM-Newton) telescope reveal X-ray pulsations with the same period as the fundamental stellar oscillations. This discovery challenges our understanding of stellar winds from massive stars, their X-ray emission and their magnetism.
Published: 04 June 2014
Galaxy mergers play a key role in the evolution of galaxies and the growth of their central supermassive black holes (SMBHs). A search for (active) SMBH binaries (SMBHBs) at the centers of the merger remnants is currently ongoing. Perhaps the greatest challenge is to identify the inactive SMBHBs, which might be the most abundant, but are also the most difficult to identify. Liu et al. predicted characteristic drops in the light curves of tidal disruption events (TDEs), caused by the presence of a secondary SMBH. Here, we apply that model to the light curve of the optically inactive galaxy SDSS J120136.02+300305.5, which was identified as a candidate TDE with XMM-Newton. We show that the deep dips in its evolving X-ray light curve can be well explained by the presence of a SMBHB at its core. A SMBHB model with a mass of the primary of MBH = 107 Msun, a mass ratio q=0.08, and a semimajor axis ab = 0.6 mpc is in good agreement with the observations. Given that primary mass, introducing an orbital eccentricity is needed, with eb = 0.3. Alternatively, a lower mass primary of MBH = 106 Msun in a circular orbit fits the light curve well. Tight binaries like this one, which have already overcome the "final parsec problem," are prime sources of gravitational wave radiation once the two SMBHs coalesce. Future transient surveys, which will detect TDEs in large numbers, will place tight constraints on the SMBHB fraction in otherwise non-active galaxies.
Published: 23 April 2014

Published online 13 November 2013.

Accreting black holes are known to power relativistic jets, both in stellar-mass binary systems and at the centres of galaxies. The power carried away by the jets, and, hence, the feedback they provide to their surroundings, depends strongly on their composition. Jets containing a baryonic component should carry significantly more energy than electron-positron jets. Energetic considerations and circular-polarization measurements have provided conflicting circumstantial evidence for the presence or absence of baryons in jets, and the only system in which they have been unequivocally detected is the peculiar X-ray binary SS 433. Here we report the detection of Doppler-shifted X-ray emission lines from a more typical black-hole candidate X-ray binary, 4U 1630-47, coincident with the reappearance of radio emission from the jets of the source. We argue that these lines arise from baryonic matter in a jet travelling at approximately two-thirds the speed of light, thereby establishing the presence of baryons in the jet. Such baryonic jets are more likely to be powered by the accretion disk than by the spin of the black hole, and if the baryons can be accelerated to relativistic speeds, the jets should be strong sources of gamma-rays and neutrino emission.

Published: 14 November 2013
Published online 25 September 2013

It is thought that neutron stars in low-mass binary systems can accrete matter and angular momentum from the companion star and be spun-up to millisecond rotational periods. During the accretion stage, the system is called a low-mass X-ray binary, and bright X-ray emission is observed. When the rate of mass transfer decreases in the later evolutionary stages, these binaries host a radio millisecond pulsar whose emission is powered by the neutron stars rotating magnetic field. This evolutionary model is supported by the detection of millisecond X-ray pulsations from several accreting neutron stars and also by the evidence for a past accretion disc in a rotation-powered millisecond pulsar. It has been proposed that a rotation-powered pulsar may temporarily switch on during periods of low mass inflow in some such systems. Only indirect evidence for this transition has hitherto been observed. Here we report observations of accretion-powered, millisecond X-ray pulsations from a neutron star previously seen as a rotation-powered radio pulsar. Within a few days after a month-long X-ray outburst, radio pulses were again detected. This not only shows the evolutionary link between accretion and rotation-powered millisecond pulsars, but also that some systems can swing between the two states on very short timescales.
Published: 27 September 2013

Published online 14 August 2013

Soft-gamma-ray repeaters (SGRs) and anomalous X-ray pulsars (AXPs) are slowly rotating, isolated neutron stars that sporadically undergo episodes of long-term flux enhancement (outbursts) generally accompanied by the emission of short bursts of hard X-rays. This behaviour can be understood in the magnetar model, according to which these sources are mainly powered by their own magnetic energy. This is supported by the fact that the magnetic fields inferred from several observed properties of SGRs and AXPs are greater than - or at the high end of the range of - those of radio pulsars. In the peculiar case of SGR 0418+5729, a weak dipole magnetic moment is derived from its timing parameters, whereas a strong field has been proposed to reside in the stellar interior and in multipole components on the surface. Here we show that the X-ray spectrum of SGR 0418+5729 has an absorption line, the properties of which depend strongly on the star's rotational phase. This line is interpreted as a proton cyclotron feature and its energy implies a magnetic field ranging from 2 × 1014 gauss to more than 1015 gauss.

Published: 16 August 2013
We report on the long-term X-ray monitoring of the outburst decay of the low magnetic field magnetar SGR 0418+5729 using all the available X-ray data obtained with RXTE, Swift, Chandra, and XMM-Newton observations from the discovery of the source in 2009 June up to 2012 August. The timing analysis allowed us to obtain the first measurement of the period derivative of SGR 0418+5729: Pdot= 4(1) × 10-15 s s-1, significant at a ~3.5 sigma confidence level. This leads to a surface dipolar magnetic field of Bdip ~ 6 × 1012 G. This measurement confirms SGR 0418+5729 as the lowest magnetic field magnetar. Following the flux and spectral evolution from the beginning of the outburst up to ~1200 days, we observe a gradual cooling of the tiny hot spot responsible for the X-ray emission, from a temperature of ~0.9 to 0.3 keV. Simultaneously, the X-ray flux decreased by about three orders of magnitude: from about 1.4 × 10-11 to 1.2 × 10-14 erg s-1 cm-2. Deep radio, millimeter, optical, and gamma-ray observations did not detect the source counterpart, implying stringent limits on its multi-band emission, as well as constraints on the presence of a fossil disk. By modeling the magneto-thermal secular evolution of SGR 0418+5729, we infer a realistic age of ~550 kyr, and a dipolar magnetic field at birth of ~1014 G. The outburst characteristics suggest the presence of a thin twisted bundle with a small heated spot at its base. The bundle untwisted in the first few months following the outburst, while the hot spot decreases in temperature and size. We estimate the outburst rate of low magnetic field magnetars to be about one per year per galaxy, and we briefly discuss the consequences of such a result in several other astrophysical contexts.
Published: 25 May 2013
MAXI J1659-152 is a bright X-ray transient black-hole candidate binary system discovered in September 2010. We report here on MAXI, RXTE, Swift, and XMM-Newton observations during its 2010/2011 outburst. We find that during the first one and a half week of the outburst the X-ray light curves display drops in intensity at regular intervals, which we interpret as absorption dips. About three weeks into the outbursts, again drops in intensity are seen. These dips have, however, a spectral behaviour opposite to that of the absorption dips, and are related to fast spectral state changes (hence referred to as transition dips). The absorption dips recur with a period of 2.414 ± 0.005 h, which we interpret as the orbital period of the system. This implies that MAXI J1659-152 is the shortest period black-hole candidate binary known to date. The inclination of the accretion disk with respect to the line of sight is estimated to be 65-80°. We propose the companion to the black-hole candidate to be close to an M5 dwarf star, with a mass and radius of about 0.15-0.25 solar masses and 0.2-0.25 solar radii, respectively. We derive that the companion had an initial mass of about 1.5 solar masses, which evolved to its current mass in about 5-6 billion years. The system is rather compact (orbital separation of >=1.33 solar radii), and is located at a distance of 8.6 ± 3.7 kpc, with a height above the Galactic plane of 2.4 ± 1.0 kpc. The characteristics of short orbital period and high Galactic scale height are shared with two other transient black-hole candidate X-ray binaries, i.e., XTE J1118+480 and Swift J1735.5-0127. We suggest that all three are kicked out of the Galactic plane into the halo, rather than being formed in a globular cluster.
Published: 19 March 2013
Broad X-ray emission lines from neutral and partially ionized iron observed in active galaxies have been interpreted as fluorescence produced by the reflection of hard X-rays off the inner edge of an accretion disk. In this model, line broadening and distortion result from rapid rotation and relativistic effects near the black hole, the line shape being sensitive to its spin. Alternative models in which the distortions result from absorption by intervening structures provide an equally good description of the data, and there has been no general agreement on which is correct. Recent claims that the black hole (2×106 solar masses) at the centre of the galaxy NGC 1365 is rotating at close to its maximum possible speed rest on the assumption of relativistic reflection. Here we report X-ray observations of NGC 1365 that reveal the relativistic disk features through broadened Fe-line emission and an associated Compton scattering excess of 10-30 kiloelectronvolts. Using temporal and spectral analyses, we disentangle continuum changes due to time-variable absorption from reflection, which we find arises from a region within 2.5 gravitational radii of the rapidly spinning black hole. Absorption-dominated models that do not include relativistic disk reflection can be ruled out both statistically and on physical grounds.
Published: 28 February 2013
Context. Zeta Pup is the X-ray brightest O-type star of the sky. This object was regularly observed with the RGS instrument onboard XMM-Newton for calibration purposes, which led to an unprecedented set of high-quality spectra.

Aims. We have previously reduced and extracted this data set and integrated it into the most detailed high-resolution X-ray spectrum of any early-type star so far. Here we present the analysis of this spectrum, taking into account for the presence of structures in the stellar wind.

Methods. For this purpose, we used our new modeling tool that allows fitting the entire spectrum with a multi-temperature plasma. We illustrate the impact of a proper treatment of the radial dependence of the X-ray opacity of the cool wind on the best-fit radial distribution of the temperature of the X-ray plasma.

Results. The best-fit of the RGS spectrum of zeta Pup is obtained assuming no porosity. Four plasma components at temperatures between 0.10 and 0.69 keV are needed to adequately represent the observed spectrum. Whilst the hardest emission is concentrated between ~3 and 4 R*, the softer emission starts already at 1.5 R* and extends to the outer regions of the wind.

Conclusions. The inferred radial distribution of the plasma temperatures agrees rather well with theoretical expectations. The mass-loss rate and CNO abundances corresponding to our best-fit model also agree quite well with the results of recent studies of zeta Pup in the UV and optical domain.

Published: 26 February 2013
Pulsars emit from low-frequency radio waves up to high-energy gamma-rays, generated anywhere from the stellar surface out to the edge of the magnetosphere. Detecting correlated mode changes across the electromagnetic spectrum is therefore key to understanding the physical relationship among the emission sites. Through simultaneous observations, we detected synchronous switching in the radio and x-ray emission properties of PSR B0943+10. When the pulsar is in a sustained radio-"bright" mode, the x-rays show only an unpulsed, nonthermal component. Conversely, when the pulsar is in a radio-"quiet" mode, the x-ray luminosity more than doubles and a 100% pulsed thermal component is observed along with the nonthermal component. This indicates rapid, global changes to the conditions in the magnetosphere, which challenge all proposed pulsar emission theories.
Published: 25 January 2013
Stellar winds are a crucial component of massive stars, but their exact properties still remain uncertain. To shed some light on this subject, we have analyzed an exceptional set of X-ray observations of zeta Puppis, one of the closest and brightest massive stars. The sensitive light curves that were derived reveal two major results. On the one hand, a slow modulation of the X-ray flux (with a relative amplitude of up to 15% over 16 hr in the 0.3-4.0 keV band) is detected. Its characteristic timescale cannot be determined with precision, but amounts from one to several days. It could be related to corotating interaction regions, known to exist in zeta Puppis from UV observations. Hour-long changes, linked to flares or to the pulsation activity, are not observed in the last decade covered by the XMM observations; the 17 hr tentative period, previously reported in a ROSAT analysis, is not confirmed either and is thus transient, at best. On the other hand, short-term changes are surprisingly small (<1% relative amplitude for the total energy band). In fact, they are compatible solely with the presence of Poisson noise in the data. This surprisingly low level of short-term variability, in view of the embedded wind-shock origin, requires a very high fragmentation of the stellar wind, for both absorbing and emitting features (>105 parcels, comparing with a two-dimensional wind model). This is the first time that constraints have been placed on the number of clumps in an O-type star wind and from X-ray observations.
Published: 17 January 2013
8-Dec-2021 07:35 UT

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