The ultraviolet spectral energy distributions of quiescent black holes and neutron stars

R. I. Hynes, Louisiana State University
E. L. Robinson, The University of Texas at Austin


We present Hubble Space Telescope/Advanced Camera for Surveys ultraviolet photometry of three quiescent black hole X-ray transients, X-ray Nova Muscae 1991 (GU Mus), GRO J0422+32 (V518 Per), and X-ray Nova Vel 1993 (MM Vel), and one neutron star system, Aql X-1. These are the first quiescent UV detections of these objects. All are detected at a much higher level than expected from their companion stars alone and are significant detections of the accretion flow. Three of the four UV excesses can be characterized by a blackbody of temperature 5000-13, 000K, hotter than expected for the quiescent outer disk. A good fit could not be found for MM Vel. The source of the blackbody-like emission is most likely a heated region of the inner disk. Contrary to initial indications from spectroscopy, there does not appear to be a systematic difference in the UV luminosity or spectral shape between black holes and neutron star systems. However, combining our new data with earlier spectroscopy and published X-ray luminosities, there is a significant difference in the X-ray to UV flux ratios, with the neutron stars exhibiting L X/L UV about 10 times higher than the black hole systems. This is consistent with earlier comparisons based on estimating non-stellar optical light, but since both bandpasses we use are expected to be dominated by accretion light, we present a cleaner comparison. This suggests that the difference in X-ray luminosities cannot simply reflect differences in quiescent accretion rates and so the UV/X-ray ratio is a more robust discriminator between the black hole and neutron star populations than the comparison of X-ray luminosities alone. © 2012 The American Astronomical Society. All rights reserved.