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X-ray Bursts in Low-Mass X-ray Binary Systems

Context:

Recently, India’s first multi-wavelength space-based observatory AstroSat has detected bright sub-second X-ray bursts from a new and unique neutron star with ultrahigh magnetic field (magnetar).

Relevance:

GS III: Science and Technology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. X-ray Bursts in Low-Mass X-ray Binary Systems
  2. Magnetar: Neutron Star with Ultra-Powerful Magnetic Field

X-ray Bursts in Low-Mass X-ray Binary Systems

Characteristics:
  • Location: Occurs in low-mass X-ray binary systems.
  • Participants: Involves a neutron star and a low-mass main sequence star orbiting each other closely.
Process:
  • Accretion Disk Formation: Companion star overflows its roche-lobe, leading to the formation of an accretion disk around the neutron star.
  • Hydrogen Transfer: Hydrogen from the companion star is drawn into the accretion disk and deposited on the neutron star’s surface.
  • Helium Conversion: Extreme temperatures and pressures cause hydrogen to be immediately converted into helium on the neutron star’s surface.
  • Helium Build-up: A thin surface layer of helium accumulates until a critical mass is reached.
  • Explosive Ignition: Helium ignition results in an explosive release of X-rays, heating the neutron star’s surface to several tens of millions of degrees.
Recurrence:
  • Recurrent Bursts: The binary system temporarily returns to a quiescent state, and the neutron star begins to re-accumulate the helium surface layer, leading to recurrent X-ray bursts.
  • Interval: Generally occurs at regular intervals, separated by several hours or days.

Magnetar: Neutron Star with Ultra-Powerful Magnetic Field

Definition:
  • Type: Exotic neutron star.
  • Characteristic: Possesses an ultra-powerful magnetic field.
Magnetic Field Strength:
  • Comparison: Magnetic field is about 1,000 times stronger than a normal neutron star and a trillion times stronger than Earth’s.
Energy Release:
  • Associated Events: Releases vast amounts of energy in the form of flares, X-rays, and gamma-ray bursts.
  • Extreme Events: Often associated with extreme cosmic events, making them among the most peculiar objects in the universe next to black holes.
Magnetic Field Origin:
  • Hypothesis: Magnetic field strength may result from the neutron star’s interior, composed of neutrons, quarks, and exotic states of matter, becoming a superconducting fluid.

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