Astronomy Reports

, Volume 59, Issue 7, pp 645–655 | Cite as

Wind accretion: Theory and observations

  • N. I. Shakura
  • K. A. Postnov
  • A. Yu. Kochetkova
  • L. Hjalmarsdotter
  • L. Sidoli
  • A. Paizis


A review of wind accretion in high-mass X-ray binaries is presented. We focus on different regimes of quasi-spherical accretion onto the neutron star (NS): the supersonic (Bondi) accretion, which takes place when the captured matter cools down rapidly and falls supersonically towards the NS magnetosphere, and subsonic (settling) accretion which occurs when plasma remains hot until it meets the magnetospheric boundary. These two regimes of accretion are separated by an X-ray luminosity of about 4 × 1036 erg s-1. In the subsonic case, which sets in at lower luminosities, a hot quasi-spherical shell must form around the magnetosphere, and the actual accretion rate onto NS is determined by the ability of the plasma to enter the magnetosphere due to Rayleigh–Taylor instability. In turn, two regimes of subsonic accretion are possible, depending on plasma cooling mechanism (Compton or radiative) near the magnetopshere. The transition from the high-luminosity with Compton cooling to the lowluminosity (Lx ≲ 3 × 1035 erg s-1) with radiative cooling can be responsible for the onset of the off states repeatedly observed in several low-luminosity slowly accreting pulsars, such as Vela X-1, GX 301-2, and 4U 1907+09. The triggering of the transitionmay be due to a switch in the X-ray beam pattern in response to a change in the optical depth in the accretion column with changing luminosity. We also show that in the settling accretion theory, bright X-ray flares (~1038-1040 erg) observed in supergiant fast X-ray transients (SFXT) can be produced by sporadic capture of magnetized stellar wind plasma. At sufficiently low accretion rates, magnetic reconnection can enhance the magnetospheric plasma entry rate, resulting in copious production of X-ray photons, strong Compton cooling and ultimately in unstable accretion of the entire shell. A bright flare develops on the free-fall time scale in the shell, and the typical energy released in an SFXT bright flare corresponds to the mass of the shell.


Neutron Star Astronomy Report Magnetic Reconnection Accretion Rate Stellar Wind 
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Copyright information

© Pleiades Publishing, Ltd. 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • N. I. Shakura
    • 1
  • K. A. Postnov
    • 1
  • A. Yu. Kochetkova
    • 1
  • L. Hjalmarsdotter
    • 1
  • L. Sidoli
    • 2
  • A. Paizis
    • 2
  1. 1.Sternberg Astronomical Institute, Moscow State UniversityMoscowRussia
  2. 2.INAF, Istituto di Astrofisica Spaziale e Fisica CosmicaMilanoItaly

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