Thermonuclear Bursts with Short Recurrence Times from Neutron Stars Explained by Opacity-driven Convection

L. Keek, A. Heger

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21 Citations (Scopus)


Thermonuclear flashes of hydrogen and helium accreted onto neutron stars produce the frequently observed Type I X-ray bursts. It is the current paradigm that almost all material burns in a burst, after which it takes hours to accumulate fresh fuel for the next burst. In rare cases, however, bursts are observed with recurrence times as short as minutes. We present the first one-dimensional multi-zone simulations that reproduce this phenomenon. Bursts that ignite in a relatively hot neutron star envelope leave a substantial fraction of the fuel unburned at shallow depths. In the wake of the burst, convective mixing events driven by opacity bring this fuel down to the ignition depth on the observed timescale of minutes. There, unburned hydrogen mixes with the metal-rich ashes, igniting to produce a subsequent burst. We find burst pairs and triplets, similar to the observed instances. Our simulations reproduce the observed fraction of bursts with short waiting times of ∼30%, and demonstrate that short recurrence time bursts are typically less bright and of shorter duration.

Original languageEnglish
Article number113
Number of pages10
JournalThe Astrophysical Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jun 2017


  • accretion, accretion disks
  • methods: numerical
  • nuclear reactions, nucleosynthesis, abundances
  • stars: neutron
  • X-rays: binaries
  • X-rays: bursts

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