The clumpy absorber in the high-mass X-ray binary Vela X-1





Citation of Original Publication

Grinberg, V., N. Hell, I. El Mellah, J. Neilsen, A. a. C. Sander, M. Leutenegger, F. Fürst, et al. “The Clumpy Absorber in the High-Mass X-Ray Binary Vela X-1.” Astronomy & Astrophysics 608 (December 1, 2017): A143.


This work was written as part of one of the author's official duties as an Employee of the United States Government and is therefore a work of the United States Government. In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 105, no copyright protection is available for such works under U.S. Law.
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Bright and eclipsing, the high-mass X-ray binary Vela X-1 offers a unique opportunity to study accretion onto a neutron star from clumpy winds of O/B stars and to disentangle the complex accretion geometry of these systems. In Chandra-HETGS spectroscopy at orbital phase ~0.25, when our line of sight towards the source does not pass through the large-scale accretion structure such as the accretion wake, we observe changes in overall spectral shape on timescales of a few kiloseconds. This spectral variability is, at least in part, caused by changes in overall absorption and we show that such strongly variable absorption cannot be caused by unperturbed clumpy winds of O/B stars. We detect line features from high and low ionization species of silicon, magnesium, and neon whose strengths and presence depend on the overall level of absorption. These features imply a co-existence of cool and hot gas phases in the system, which we interpret as a highly variable, structured accretion flow close to the compact object such as has been recently seen in simulations of wind accretion in high-mass X-ray binaries.