The Astronomy and Astrophysics Review

, Volume 1, Issue 1, pp 85–110 | Cite as

X-ray binaries

  • N. E. White


The various types and classes of X-ray binary are reviewed high-lighting recent results. The high mass X-ray binaries (HMXRBs) can be used to probe the nature of the mass loss from the OB star in these systems. Absorption measurements through one orbital cycle of the supergiant system X1700-37 are well modelled by a radiation driven wind and also require a gas stream trailing behind the X-ray source. In Cen X-3 the gas stream is accreted by the X-ray source via an accretion disk. Changes in the gas stream can cause the disk to thicken and the disk to obscure the X-ray source. How close the supergiant is to corotation seems to be as much a critical factor in these systems as how close it is to filling its Roche lobe. In the Be star X-ray binaries a strong correlation between the neutron stars rotation period and its orbital period has been explained as due to the neutron star being immersed in a dense, slow moving equatorial wind from the Be star. For the X-ray pulsars in the transient Be X-ray binaries a centrifugal barrier to accretion is important in determining the X-ray lightcurve and the spin evolution. The X-ray orbital modulations from the low mass X-ray binaries, LMXRBs, include eclipses by the companion and/or periodic dipping behaviour from structure at the edge of the disk. The corresponding optical modulations show a smooth sinusoidal like component and in some cases a sharp eclipse by the companion. The orbital period of the LMXRB XB1916-05 is 1% longer in the optical compared to that given by the X-ray dip period. The optical period has been interpreted as the orbital period, but this seems inconsistent with the well established view of the origin of the X-ray modulations in LMXRB. A new model is presented that assumes the X-ray dip period is the true orbital period. The 5.2 h eclipsing LMXRB XB2129+47 recently entered a low state and optical observations unexpectedly reveal an F star which is too big to fit into the binary. This is probably the first direct evidence that an X-ray binary is part of a hierarchical triple. Finally the class of X-ray binaries containing black hole candidates is reviewed focusing on the value of using X-ray signatures to identify new candidates.

Key words

black holes X-rays: binaries stars: neutron stars: Be stars: mass loss 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • N. E. White
    • 1
  1. 1.EXOSAT Observatory, Astrophysics Division, Space Science Department of ESAESTECAG NoordwijkThe Netherlands

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