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Publication archive

Published online on 12 December 2012

A subset of ultraluminous X-ray sources (those with luminosities < 1040 erg/s) are thought to be powered by the accretion of gas onto black holes with masses of ~5-20 MSun, probably via an accretion disc. The X-ray and radio emission are coupled in such Galactic sources, with the radio emission originating in a relativistic jet thought to be launched from the innermost regions near the black hole, with the most powerful emission occurring when the rate of infalling matter approaches a theoretical maximum (the Eddington limit). Only four such maximal sources are known in the Milky Way, and the absorption of soft X-rays in the interstellar medium precludes determining the causal sequence of events that leads to the ejection of the jet. Here we report radio and X-ray observations of a bright new X-ray source whose peak luminosity can exceed 1039 erg/s in the nearby galaxy, M31. The radio luminosity is extremely high and shows variability on a timescale of tens of minutes, arguing that the source is highly compact and powered by accretion close to the Eddington limit onto a stellar mass black hole. Continued radio and X-ray monitoring of such sources should reveal the causal relationship between the accretion flow and the powerful jet emission.
Published: 12 December 2012
Context. A population of obscured supergiant high mass X-ray binaries has been discovered by INTEGRAL. X-ray wind tomography of IGR J17252-3616 inferred a slow wind velocity to account for the enhanced obscuration.
Aims. The main goal of this study is to understand under which conditions high obscuration could occur.
Methods. We have used an hydrodynamical code to simulate the flow of the stellar wind around the neutron star. A grid of simulations was used to study the dependency of the absorbing column density and of the X-ray light-curves on the model parameters. A comparison between the simulation results and the observations of IGR J17252-3616 provides an estimate on these parameters.
Results. We have constrained the wind terminal velocity to 500-600 km/s and the neutron star mass to 1.75-2.15 MSun.
Conclusions. We have confirmed that the initial hypothesis of a slow wind velocity with a moderate mass loss rate is valid. The mass of the neutron star can be constrained by studying its impact on the accretion flow.
Published: 01 November 2012
Context. About ten persistently highly absorbed super-giant high-mass X-ray binaries (sgHMXB) have been discovered by INTEGRAL as bright hard X-ray sources lacking bright X-ray counterparts. Besides IGR J16318-4848, which has peculiar characteristics, the other members of this family share many properties with the classical wind-fed sgHMXB systems.
Aims. Our goal is to understand the characteristics of highly absorbed sgHMXB and in particular the companion stellar wind, which is thought to be responsible for the strong absorption.
Methods. We monitored IGR J17252-3616, a highly absorbed system featuring eclipses, with XMM-Newton to study the variability of the column density and the Fe K-alpha emission line along the orbit and during the eclipses. We also compiled a 3D model of the stellar wind to reproduce the observed variability.
Results. We first derive a refined orbital solution based on INTEGRAL, RXTE, and XMM-Newton data. We find that the XMM-Newton monitoring campaign reveals significant variations in the intrinsic absorbing column density along the orbit and the Fe K-alpha line equivalent width around the eclipse. The origin of the soft X-ray absorption is associated with a dense and extended hydrodynamical tail, trailing the neutron star. This structure extends along most of the orbit, indicating that the stellar wind has been strongly disrupted.
The remainder of the abstract is truncated.
Published: 01 February 2011
Published online 02 October 2012

Context. Nonthermal radio emission in massive stars is expected to arise in wind-wind collisions occurring inside a binary system. One such case, the O-type star Cyg OB2 #9, was proven to be a binary only four years ago, but the orbital parameters remained uncertain. The periastron passage of 2011 was the first one to be observable under good conditions since the discovery of binarity.
Aims. In this context, we have organized a large monitoring campaign to refine the orbital solution and to study the wind-wind collision.
Methods. This paper presents the analysis of optical spectroscopic data, as well as of a dedicated X-ray monitoring performed with Swift and XMM-Newton.
Results. In light of our refined orbital solution, Cyg OB2 #9 appears as a massive O+O binary with a long period and high eccentricity; its components (O5-5.5I for the primary and O3-4III for the secondary) have similar masses and similar luminosities. The new data also provide the first evidence that a wind-wind collision is present in the system. In the optical domain, the broad H-alpha line varies, displaying enhanced absorption and emission components at periastron. X-ray observations yield the unambiguous signature of an adiabatic collision, because as the stars approach periastron, the X-ray luminosity closely follows the 1/D variation expected in that case. The X-ray spectrum appears, however, slightly softer at periastron, which is probably related to winds colliding at slightly lower speeds at that time.
Conclusions. It is the first time that such a variation has been detected in O+O systems, and the first case where the wind-wind collision is found to remain adiabatic even at periastron passage.

Published: 03 October 2012
Supermassive black holes (SMBHs; mass is greater than or approximately 105 times that of the Sun) are known to exist at the center of most galaxies with sufficient stellar mass. In the local universe, it is possible to infer their properties from the surrounding stars or gas. However, at high redshifts we require active, continuous accretion to infer the presence of the SMBHs, which often comes in the form of long-term accretion in active galactic nuclei. SMBHs can also capture and tidally disrupt stars orbiting nearby, resulting in bright flares from otherwise quiescent black holes. Here, we report on a ~200-second x-ray quasi-periodicity around a previously dormant SMBH located in the center of a galaxy at redshift z = 0.3534. This result may open the possibility of probing general relativity beyond our local universe.
Published online on 2 August 2012.
Published: 25 August 2012
We report a periodicity of ~1 day in the highly elevated X-ray emission from the protostar V1647 Ori during its two recent multiple-year outbursts of mass accretion. This periodicity is indicative of protostellar rotation at near-break-up speed. Modeling of the phased X-ray light curve indicates that the high-temperature (~50 MK), X-ray-emitting plasma, which is most likely heated by accretion-induced magnetic reconnection, resides in dense ( >~5 × 1010 cm-3), pancake-shaped magnetic footprints where the accretion stream feeds the newborn star. The sustained X-ray periodicity of V1647 Ori demonstrates that such protostellar magnetospheric accretion configurations can be stable over timescales of years.
Published: 21 July 2012
Recent X-ray observations have enabled the study of reverberation delays in active galactic nuclei (AGN) for the first time. All the detections so far are in sources with a strong soft excess, and the measured delay is between the hard (1-3 keV) direct continuum and the soft excess (0.5-1 keV), interpreted as the reflection continuum smeared by relativistic effects. There is however an inherent ambiguity in identifying and studying the details of the lines in the soft excess. Here we report the first detection of reverberation in the iron K band in any AGN. Using XMM-Newton observations of NGC 4151, we find delays of the order of 2000 s on time-scales of 105 s between the 5-6 keV band and the 2-3 and 7-8 keV bands, with a broad lag profile resembling a relativistically broadened iron line. The peak of the lag spectra shifts to lower energies at higher frequencies, consistent with the red wing of the line being emitted at smaller radii, as expected from reflection off the inner accretion disc. This is a first detection of a broad iron line using timing studies.
Published: 06 March 2012
In Press

Using the results of a previous X-ray photo-ionization modelling of blue-shifted Fe K absorption lines on a sample of 42 local radio-quiet AGNs observed with XMM-Newton, in this letter we estimate the location and energetics of the associated ultra-fast outflows (UFOs). Due to significant uncertainties, we are essentially able to place only lower/upper limits. On average, their location is in the interval ~0.0003-0.03pc (~102-104 rs) from the central black hole, consistent with what is expected for accretion disk winds/outflows. The mass outflow rates are constrained between ~0.01-1 M_Sun/yr, corresponding to >5-10% of the accretion rates. The average lower-upper limits on the mechanical power are log(EK_dot)~42.6-44.6 erg/s. However, the minimum possible value of the ratio between the mechanical power and bolometric luminosity is constrained to be comparable or higher than the minimum required by simulations of feedback induced by winds/outflows. Therefore, this work demonstrates that UFOs are indeed capable to provide a significant contribution to the AGN cosmological feedback, in agreement with theoretical expectations and the recent observation of interactions between AGN outflows and the interstellar medium in several Seyferts galaxies.

Published: 27 February 2012
Aims. One of the closest and brightest massive stars, zeta Puppis, was the first early-type object observed by the current generation of X-ray observatories. These observations provided some surprising results, partly confirming the theoretical predictions while simultaneously unveiling some problematic mismatches with expectations. In this series of papers, we perform a thorough study of zeta Puppis in X-rays, using a decade of XMM-Newton observations.

Methods. The star zeta Puppis was observed 18 times by XMM-Newton, totaling 1 Ms in exposure. This provides the highest quality high-resolution X-ray spectrum of a massive star to date, as well as a perfect dataset for studying X-ray variability in an "archetype" object.

Results. This first paper reports on the data reduction of this unique dataset and provides a few preliminary results. On the one hand, analysis of EPIC low-resolution spectra shows the star to have a remarkably stable X-ray emission from one observation to the next. On the other hand, fitting by a wind model of individual line profiles recorded by RGS confirms the wavelength dependence of the line morphology.

Published: 27 January 2012

Made available online 29 November 2011, before print publication

We report on a new Be/X-ray pulsar binary located in the Wing of the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC). The strong pulsed X-ray source was discovered with the Chandra and XMM-Newton X-ray observatories. The X-ray pulse period of 1062 s is consistently determined from both Chandra and XMM-Newton observations, revealing one of the slowest rotating X-ray pulsars known in the SMC. The optical counterpart of the X-ray source is the emission-line star 2dFS 3831. Its B0-0.5(III)e+ spectral type is determined from VLT-FLAMES and 2dF optical spectroscopy, establishing the system as a Be/X-ray binary (Be-XRB). The hard X-ray spectrum is well fitted by a power law with additional thermal and blackbody components, the latter reminiscent of persistent Be-XRBs. This system is the first evidence of a recent supernova in the low-density surroundings of NGC 602. We detect a shell nebula around 2dFS 3831 in Ha and [O III] images and conclude that it is most likely a supernova remnant. If it is linked to the supernova explosion that created this new X-ray pulsar, its kinematic age of (2-4) × 104 yr provides a constraint on the age of the pulsar.

Published: 18 January 2012
X-ray absorption line spectroscopy has recently shown evidence for previously unknown Ultra-fast Outflows (UFOs) in radio-quiet active galactic nuclei (AGNs). These have been detected essentially through blueshifted Fe XXV/XXVI K-shell transitions. In the previous paper of this series we defined UFOs as those highly ionized absorbers with an outflow velocity higher than 10,000 km/s and assessed the statistical significance of the associated blueshifted absorption lines in a large sample of 42 local radio-quiet AGNs observed with XMM-Newton. The present paper is an extension of that work. First, we report a detailed curve of growth analysis of the main Fe XXV/XXVI transitions in photoionized plasmas. Then, we estimate an average spectral energy distribution for the sample sources and directly model the Fe K absorbers in the XMM-Newton spectra with the detailed Xstar photoionization code. We confirm that the frequency of sources in the radio-quiet sample showing UFOs is >35 per cent and that the majority of the Fe K absorbers are indeed associated with UFOs. The outflow velocity distribution spans from ~10,000 km/s (~0.03c) up to ~100,000 km/s (~0.3c), with a peak and mean value of ~42,000 km/s (~0.14c). The ionization parameter is very high and in the range log xi~3-6 erg s-1 cm, with a mean value of log xi~4.2 erg s-1 cm. The associated column densities are also large, in the range NH~1022-1024 cm-2, with a mean value of NH~1023 cm-2. We discuss and estimate how selection effects, such as those related to the limited instrumental sensitivity at energies above 7 keV, may hamper the detection of even higher velocities and higher ionization absorbers.
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Published: 03 November 2011
Aims. In an attempt to catch new X-ray transients while they are still bright, the data taken by XMM-Newton as it slews between targets are being processed and cross-correlated with other X-ray observations as soon as the slew data appear in the XMM-Newton archive.
Methods. A bright source, XMMSL1 J070542.7-381442, was detected on 9 Oct. 2007 at a position where no previous X-ray source had been seen. The XMM slew data and optical data acquired with the Magellan Clay 6.5 m telescope were used to classify the new object.
Results. No XMM slew X-ray counts are detected above 1 keV and the source is seen to be ~750 times brighter than the ROSAT All-Sky Survey upper limit at that position. The normally mV ~ 16 star, USNO-A2.0 0450-03360039, which lies 3.5' from the X-ray position, was seen in our Magellan data to be very much enhanced in brightness. Our optical spectrum showed emission lines that identified the source as a nova in the auroral phase; hence, this optical source is undoubtedly the progenitor of the X-ray source - a new nova (now also known as V598 Pup). The X-ray spectrum indicates that the nova was in a super-soft state (with kTeff 35 eV). We estimate the distance to the nova to be ~3 kpc. Analysis of archival robotic optical survey data shows a rapid-decline light curve consistent with what is expected for a very fast nova.
Conclusions. The XMM-Newton slew data present a powerful opportunity to find new X-ray transient objects while they are still bright. Here we present the first such source discovered by the analysis of near real-time slew data.
Published: 11 March 2008
Context. IGR J18410-0535 is one of the supergiant fast X-ray transients. This subclass of supergiant X-ray binaries typically under- goes few-hour long outbursts reaching luminosities of 1036-1037 erg/s, the occurrence of which has been ascribed to the combined effect of the intense magnetic field and rotation of the compact object hosted in them and/or the presence of dense structures ("clumps") in the wind of their supergiant companion.
Aims. IGR J18410-0535 was observed for 45 ks by XMM-Newton as part of a program aimed at studying the quiescent emission of supergiant fast X-ray transients and clarifying the origin of their peculiar X-ray variability.
Methods. We carried out an in-depth spectral and timing analysis of the XMM-Newton data.
Results. IGR J18410-0535 underwent a bright X-ray flare that started about 5 ks after the beginning of the observation and lasted for ~15 ks. Thanks to the capabilities of the instruments on-board XMM-Newton, the whole event could be followed in great detail. The results of our analysis provide strong convincing evidence that the flare was due to the accretion of matter from a massive clump onto the compact object hosted in this system.
Conclusions. By assuming that the clump is spherical and is moving at the same velocity as the homogeneous stellar wind, we estimate a mass and radius of Mcl~1.4×1022 g and Rcl~8×1011 cm. These are in qualitative agreement with values expected from theoretical calculations. No evidence for pulsations at ~4.7 s was found (we investigated coherent modulations in the range 3.5 ms-100 s). A reanalysis of the archival ASCA and Swift data of IGR J18410-0535, where such pulsations were previously detected, revealed that they were likely due to a statistical fluctuation and to an instrumental effect, respectively.
Published: 29 June 2011
We present deep Swift follow-up observations of a sample of 94 unidentified X-ray sources from the XMM-Newton Slew Survey. The X-ray Telescope (XRT) on-board Swift detected 29 per cent of the sample sources; the flux limits for undetected sources suggest the bulk of the Slew Survey sources are drawn from one or more transient populations. We report revised X-ray positions for the XRT-detected sources, with typical uncertainties of 2.9 arcsec, reducing the number of catalogued optical matches to just a single source in most cases. We characterize the sources detected by Swift through their X-ray spectra and variability and via Ultraviolet-Optical Telescope photometry and using catalogued near-infrared, optical and radio observations of potential counterparts. Six sources can be associated with known objects and eight sources may be associated with unidentified ROSAT sources within the 3 sigma error radii of our revised X-ray positions. We find 10 of the 30 XRT- and/or Burst Alert Telescope (BAT)-detected sources are clearly stellar in nature, including one periodic variable star and two high proper motion stars. For 11 sources we propose an active galactic nucleus (AGN) classification, among which four are detected in hard X-rays and three have redshifts spanning z= 0.2-0.9 obtained from the literature or from optical spectroscopy presented here. A further three sources are suspected AGN and one is a candidate Galactic hard X-ray flash, while five sources remain unclassified. The 67 Slew Survey sources we do not detect with Swift XRT or BAT are studied via their characteristics in the Slew Survey observations and by comparison with the XRT- and BAT-detected population. We suggest that these are mostly if not all extragalactic, though unlikely to be highly absorbed sources in the X-rays such as Compton thick AGN.
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Published: 02 March 2011
We report evidence of a fully established galaxy cluster at z = 2.07, consisting of a ~20 sigma overdensity of red, compact spheroidal galaxies spatially coinciding with extended X-ray emission detected with XMM-Newton. We use VLT VIMOS and FORS2 spectra and deep Subaru, VLT and Spitzer imaging to estimate the redshift of the structure from a prominent z = 2.07 spectroscopic redshift spike of emission-line galaxies, concordant with the accurate 12-band photometric redshifts of the red galaxies. Using NICMOS and Keck AO observations, we find that the red galaxies have elliptical morphologies and compact cores. While they do not form a tight red sequence, their colours are consistent with that of a >1.3 Gyr population observed at z ~ 2.1. From an X-ray luminosity of 7.2×1043 erg/s and the stellar mass content of the red galaxy population, we estimate a halo mass of 5.3-8×1013 solar masses, comparable to the nearby Virgo cluster. These properties imply that this structure could be the most distant, mature cluster known to date and that X-ray luminous, elliptical-dominated clusters are already forming at substantially earlier epochs than previously known.
Published: 11 January 2011
[Abbreviated abstract] We present measurements of the soft X-ray background (SXRB) O VII and O VIII intensity between l = 120° and l = 240°, the first results of a survey of the SXRB using archival XMM-Newton observations.
Published: 23 March 2010
We compare the predictions of three physical models for the origin of the hot halo gas with the observed halo X-ray emission, derived from 26 high-latitude XMM-Newton observations of the soft X-ray background between l = 120° and l = 240°. These observations were chosen from a much larger set of observations as they are expected to be the least contaminated by solar wind charge exchange emission. We characterize the halo emission in the XMM-Newton band with a single-temperature plasma model. We find that the observed halo temperature is fairly constant across the sky (~(1.8-2.4) × 106 K), whereas the halo emission measure varies by an order of magnitude (~0.0005-0.006 cm-6 pc). When we compare our observations with the model predictions, we find that most of the hot gas observed with XMM-Newton does not reside in isolated extraplanar supernova (SN) remnants - this model predicts emission an order of magnitude too faint. A model of an SN-driven interstellar medium, including the flow of hot gas from the disk into the halo in a galactic fountain, gives good agreement with the observed 0.4-2.0 keV surface brightness. This model overpredicts the halo X-ray temperature by a factor of ~2, but there are a several possible explanations for this discrepancy. We therefore conclude that a major (possibly dominant) contributor to the halo X-ray emission observed with XMM-Newton is a fountain of hot gas driven into the halo by disk SNe. However, we cannot rule out the possibility that the extended hot halo of accreted material predicted by disk galaxy formation models also contributes to the emission.
Published: 16 October 2010
Published online 14 October 2010.

Soft gamma repeaters (SGRs) and anomalous x-ray pulsars form a rapidly increasing group of x-ray sources exhibiting sporadic emission of short bursts. They are believed to be magnetars, that is, neutron stars powered by extreme magnetic fields, B ~ 1014 to 1015 gauss. We report on a soft gamma repeater with low magnetic field, SGR 0418+5729, recently detected after it emitted bursts similar to those of magnetars. X-ray observations show that its dipolar magnetic field cannot be greater than 7.5 × 1012 gauss, well in the range of ordinary radio pulsars, implying that a high surface dipolar magnetic field is not necessarily required for magnetar-like activity. The magnetar population may thus include objects with a wider range of B-field strengths, ages, and evolutionary stages than observed so far.

Published: 12 November 2010
Context: Blue-shifted Fe K absorption lines have been detected in recent years between 7 and 10 keV in the X-ray spectra of several radio-quiet AGNs. The derived blue-shifted velocities of the lines can often reach mildly relativistic values, up to 0.2-0.4c. These findings are important because they suggest the presence of a previously unknown massive and highly ionized absorbing material outflowing from their nuclei, possibly connected with accretion disk winds/outflows.
Aims: The scope of the present work is to statistically quantify the parameters and incidence of the blue-shifted Fe K absorption lines through a uniform analysis on a large sample of radio-quiet AGNs. This allows us to assess their global detection significance and to overcome any possible publication bias.
Methods: We performed a blind search for narrow absorption features at energies greater than 6.4 keV in a sample of 42 radio-quiet AGNs observed with XMM-Newton. A simple uniform model composed by an absorbed power-law plus Gaussian emission and absorption lines provided a good fit for all the data sets. We derived the absorption lines parameters and calculated their detailed detection significance making use of the classical F-test and extensive Monte Carlo simulations.
Results: We detect 36 narrow absorption lines on a total of 101 XMM-Newton EPIC pn observations. The number of absorption lines at rest-frame energies higher than 7 keV is 22.
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Published: 21 October 2010
XMM-Newton has had a major impact on modern astrophysics, with a steady stream of new results. The XMM-Newton spacecraft, instruments and ground segment are ready to continue this success for many years to come, and provide the worldwide scientific community with the means to address many exciting new challenges.
Published: 17 July 2010
8-Dec-2021 06:44 UT

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