Cygnus X-3

  • Lawrence A. Molnar
Jets and Winds
Part of the Lecture Notes in Physics book series (LNP, volume 266)


The low-mass X-ray binary Cyg X-3 is unusual for its high radio, infrared, and X-ray luminosities. This paper reviews the observational situation at all wavelengths, and reports the first results of a series of coordinated observations at all wavelengths.

Our observations of low-level radio emission from Cyg X-3 show that this emission is characterized by successive flares whose spectral evolution is similar to the giant radio flares observed in Cyg X-3. As with the giant flares, we interpret these flares to be expanding sources of electron synchrotron radiation. We present VLBI data at 1.3 cm wavelength that confirm this interpretation. We find that the timing of the flare onsets is periodic with a period several percent longer than the binary orbital period. We suggest the radio period is the result of periodic modulation of the binary separation. We present two models for this period that are consistent with the existing data, while making differing predictions about what more extensive data should show. Modulation at the radio period may be caused by precession of the line of apsides in an eccentric orbit. Alternatively, three-body simulations show that the modulation of the binary separation in a triple system may mimic the radio period much of the time, but would also show well-defined phase jumps twice per orbit of the third star.

We find that the effect of X-ray scattering by the interstellar medium on the observed X-ray light curve is to decrease the depth of modulation from its intrinsic value for photon energies less than 6 keV. These data are not consistent with either cocoon or stellar wind models for the light curve. They are consistent with the accretion disk corona model of White and Holt, which we have elaborated to take into account the density stratification of the disk.

Our results show that Cyg X-3 is an important source for the study of binary evolution, accretion disk structure, and the formation and evolution of radio jets.


Orbital Period Light Curve Accretion Disk Expansion Velocity Binary Separation 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lawrence A. Molnar
    • 1
  1. 1.Harvard-Smithsonian Center for AstrophysicsCambridge

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