Formation of redbacks via accretion-induced collapse

Sarah Smedley, Christopher A Tout, Lilia Ferrario, Dayal Wickramasinghe

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We examine the growing class of binary millisecond pulsars known as redbacks. In these systems, the pulsar's companion has a mass between 0.1 and about 0.5 M⊙ in an orbital period of less than 1.5 d. All show extended radio eclipses associated with circumbinary material. They do not lie on the period–companion mass relation expected from the canonical intermediate-mass X-ray binary evolution in which the companion filled its Roche lobe as a red giant and has now lost its envelope and cooled as a white dwarf. The redbacks lie closer to, but usually at higher period than, the period–companion mass relation followed by cataclysmic variables and low-mass X-ray binaries. In order to turn on as a pulsar mass accretion on to a neutron star must be sufficiently weak, considerably weaker than expected in systems with low-mass main-sequence companions driven together by magnetic braking or gravitational radiation. If a neutron star is formed by accretion-induced collapse of a white dwarf as it approaches the Chandrasekhar limit some baryonic mass is abruptly lost to its binding energy so that its effective gravitational mass falls. We propose that redbacks form when accretion-induced collapse of a white dwarf takes place during cataclysmic variable binary evolution because the loss of gravitational mass makes the orbit expand suddenly so that the companion no longer fills its Roche lobe. Once activated, the pulsar can ablate its companion and so further expand the orbit and also account for the extended eclipses in the radio emission of the pulsar that are characteristic of these systems. The whole period–companion mass space occupied by the redbacks can be populated in this way.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2540-2549
Number of pages10
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • binaries: close
  • stars: evolution
  • stars: mass-loss
  • stars: neutron
  • pulsars: general

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