X-ray Binary – Definition & Detailed Explanation – Astronomical Phenomena Glossary

I. What is an X-ray Binary?

X-ray binaries are a type of binary star system in which one of the stars is a compact object, such as a neutron star or black hole, that emits X-rays. The other star in the system can be a normal star like the Sun or a giant star. The compact object in an X-ray binary accretes matter from its companion star, which heats up and emits X-rays as it falls towards the compact object. This process makes X-ray binaries one of the brightest sources of X-rays in the sky.

II. How do X-ray Binaries form?

X-ray binaries are thought to form through a process known as mass transfer. In a binary star system, one star can evolve faster than the other, leading to the transfer of mass from the more evolved star to its companion. If the more evolved star is a compact object like a neutron star or black hole, the accretion of mass from the companion star can lead to the emission of X-rays. This process can also be triggered by a close encounter between two stars in a dense stellar environment, such as a globular cluster.

III. What are the two types of X-ray Binaries?

There are two main types of X-ray binaries: high-mass X-ray binaries and low-mass X-ray binaries. In high-mass X-ray binaries, the donor star is a massive star that is losing mass through stellar winds. The compact object in these systems can be a neutron star or a black hole. In low-mass X-ray binaries, the donor star is a low-mass star like a white dwarf or a main-sequence star. The compact object in these systems is typically a neutron star.

IV. How are X-ray Binaries detected?

X-ray binaries are detected using X-ray telescopes, such as NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton. These telescopes are able to detect the high-energy X-rays emitted by the accretion disk around the compact object in an X-ray binary. In some cases, X-ray binaries can also be detected using radio telescopes, which can observe the radio emission produced by the interaction between the compact object and the accretion disk.

V. What can we learn from studying X-ray Binaries?

Studying X-ray binaries can provide valuable insights into the physics of accretion and the behavior of compact objects like neutron stars and black holes. By observing the X-ray emission from X-ray binaries, astronomers can learn about the properties of the accretion disk, the mass transfer rate between the two stars, and the magnetic fields of the compact object. X-ray binaries can also serve as laboratories for testing theories of general relativity and the behavior of matter under extreme conditions.

VI. What are some notable examples of X-ray Binaries?

One of the most famous X-ray binaries is Cygnus X-1, which was the first black hole to be discovered in our galaxy. Cygnus X-1 consists of a massive blue supergiant star and a black hole with a mass about 15 times that of the Sun. Another notable X-ray binary is Scorpius X-1, which contains a neutron star accreting matter from a companion star. Scorpius X-1 is one of the brightest X-ray sources in the sky and has been extensively studied by astronomers. Other examples of X-ray binaries include Vela X-1, Centaurus X-3, and Hercules X-1.