Journal Article

Black holes in short period X-ray binaries and the transition to radiatively inefficient accretion

G. Knevitt, G. A. Wynn, S. Vaughan and M. G. Watson

in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

Published on behalf of The Royal Astronomical Society

Volume 437, issue 4, pages 3087-3102
Published in print February 2014 | ISSN: 0035-8711
Published online December 2013 | e-ISSN: 1365-2966 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/mnras/stt2008
Black holes in short period X-ray binaries and the transition to radiatively inefficient accretion

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By comparing the orbital period distributions of black hole and neutron star low-mass X-ray binaries (LMXBs) in the Ritter–Kolb catalogue we show that there is statistical evidence for a dearth of black hole systems at short orbital periods (Porb < 4 h). This could either be due to a true divergence in orbital period distributions of these two types of system, or to black hole LMXBs being preferentially hidden from view at short orbital periods. We explore the latter possibility, by investigating whether black hole LMXBs could be concealed by a switch to radiatively inefficient accretion at low luminosities. The peak luminosity and the duration of X-ray binary outbursts are related to the disc radius and, hence, the orbital period. At short periods, where the peak outburst luminosity drops close to the threshold for radiatively inefficient accretion, black hole LMXBs have lower outburst luminosities, shorter outburst durations and lower X-ray duty cycles than comparable neutron star systems. These factors can combine to severely reduce the detection probability of short period black hole LMXBs relative to those containing neutron stars. We estimate the outburst properties and orbital period distribution of black hole LMXBs using two models of the transition to radiatively inefficient accretion: an instantaneous drop in accretion efficiency (η) to zero, at a fraction (f) of the Eddington luminosity (LEdd) and a power-law efficiency decrease, [math], for L < fLEdd. We show that a population of black hole LMXBs at short orbital periods can only be hidden by a sharp drop in efficiency, either instantaneous or for n ≳ 3. This could be achieved by a genuine drop in luminosity or through abrupt spectral changes that shift the accretion power out of a given X-ray band.

Keywords: accretion, accretion discs; black hole physics; binaries: general; X-rays: binaries

Journal Article.  9763 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Astronomy and Astrophysics

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