Discovery of decaHz flaring in SAX J1808.4-3658
Astronomical institute ‘Anton Pannekoek’, University of Amsterdam, Postbus 94249, 1090 GE Amsterdam, the Netherlands
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Published online: 8 January 2014
We report on the discovery of strong decaHz flaring in the early decay of two out of five outbursts of the accreting millisecond X-ray pulsar SAX J1808.4-3658. The decaHz flaring switches on and, after ~3 days, off again, on a time scale of 1-2 hours. When the flaring is present, the total 0.05-10 Hz variability has a fractional rms amplitude of 20 to 30 percent, well in excess of the 8 to 12 percent rms broad-band noise usually seen in power spectra of SAX J1808 in this frequency range. Coherent 401 Hz pulsations are seen throughout the observations in which the decaHz flaring is detected. We find that the absolute amplitude of the pulsations varies with the flux modulation of the decaHz flaring, indicating that the flaring is caused by an accretion rate modulation already present in the accretion flow prior to matter entering the accretion funnel. We suggest that the decaHz flaring is the result of the Spruit-Taam instability . This instability arises when the inner accretion disk approaches co-rotation. The rotation of the stellar magnetosphere then acts as a propeller, suppressing accretion onto the neutron star. A matter reservoir forms in the inner accretion disk, which episodically empties onto the neutron star, causing flares at a decaHz timescale. A similar explanation was proposed earlier for 1 Hz flaring occurring late in three of five outbursts, mutually exclusive with the decaHz flaring. The 1 Hz flaring was observed at luminosities a factor 5 to 10 below where we see the decaHz flaring. That a different branch of the Spruit-Taam instability could also act at the much higher luminosity levels of the decaHz flaring had recently been predicted by D’Angelo & Spruit [2, 3]. We discuss these findings in the context of the parameters of the Spruit-Taam-d’Angelo model of the instability. If confirmed, after millisecond pulsations, 1 Hz and decaHz flaring would be another diagnostic of the presence of a magnetosphere in accreting low-magnetic field neutron stars.
© Owned by the authors, published by EDP Sciences, 2014
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