Simulating X-ray bursts during a transient accretion event

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Modelling of thermonuclear X-ray bursts on accreting neutron stars has to date focused on stable accretion rates. However, bursts are also observed during episodes of transient accretion. During such events, the accretion rate can evolve significantly between bursts, and this regime provides a unique test for burst models. The accretion-powered millisecond pulsar SAX J1808.4-3658 exhibits accretion outbursts every 2-3 yr. During the well-sampled month-long outburst of 2002 October, four helium-rich X-ray bursts were observed. Using this event as a test case, we present the first multizone simulations of X-ray bursts under a timedependent accretion rate.We investigate the effect of using a time-dependent accretion rate in comparison to constant, averaged rates. Initial results suggest that using a constant, average accretion rate between bursts may underestimate the recurrence time when the accretion rate is decreasing, and overestimate it when the accretion rate is increasing. Our model, with an accreted hydrogen fraction of X = 0.44 and a CNO metallicity of ZCNO = 0.02, reproduces the observed burst arrival times and fluences with root mean square (rms) errors of 2.8 h, and 0.11 × 10-6 erg cm-2, respectively. Our results support previous modelling that predicted two unobserved bursts and indicate that additional bursts were also missed by observations. 

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2112-2118
Number of pages7
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jun 2018


  • Methods: Numerical
  • Pulsars: Individual: (SAX J1808.4-3658)
  • Stars: Neutron
  • X-rays: Bursts

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