What do high-mass X-ray binaries, or HMXBs, tell us?

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In summary, massive binary star systems called high-mass X-ray binaries (HMXBs) in the Milky Way can provide insights into the galaxy's past when tracked back to their birthplace. These systems are formed on the edges of open clusters or spiral arms and their distribution is not random due to their short lifespan. Astronomers have used data from the Gaia space telescope to study the motions of 26 HMXBs and found that they tend to be located near spiral arm edges or open clusters. In addition to the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope, there are four other space telescope projects in the works that will orbit the L2 point and provide further advancements in astronomy.
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Massive stellar pairs spewing X-rays offer a glimpse into the Milky Way's past​

https://www.space.com/high-mass-x-ray-binaries-birthplace

Tracking a binary back to its birthplace can give astronomers a range for when one of the stars became a supernova and sent the pair moving.

Massive binary star systems in the galaxy form at the edges of open clusters or the leading edge of a spiral arm, a team of astronomers found. The work provides a window into what the galactic neighborhood looked like in the past, and an explanation for the distribution of such stars.

Francis Fortin and Sylvain Chaty, both of Paris Cité University, and Frederico Garcia, of the Argentine Institute of Radio Astronomy, used data from the European Space Agency's Gaia space telescope to track the motions of 26 high-mass X-ray binaries, or HMXBs. HMXBs are the remains of binary star systems in which one star has exploded as a supernova and become a black hole or neutron star. They found that those motions, extrapolated backwards in time, tended to be either at spiral arm edges or near open star clusters.

Interjecting - So many things to look at with JWST, we probably need more than just one!

Many stars are born into binary systems, and sometimes those two stars will each be several times more massive than the sun. The more massive a star is, the shorter its life, so in these systems one of the two stars will run out of fuel and explode as a supernova in only a few tens of millions of years. (By comparison a lower-mass star like the sun will last a hundred times as long, on the order of billions of years).

The explosion leaves a compact object like a neutron star or black hole. The companion star will then start to lose mass to its dead and now very dense partner, generating X-rays as it falls in — hence the name X-ray binary.

These supernova explosions act like randomly-directed rocket engines, which is why the HMXBs don't remain in their birth clusters or spiral arms. But they don't end up too far away, in galactic terms, because their lives are so short.

The short life of an HMXB also means that they will be concentrated in certain regions — the distribution won't be random. "We find high mass x-ray binaries made with massive stars only on the galactic plane, and concentrated in spiral arms," Chaty said. That differs from older stars and globular clusters, which tend to be spread across a region called the halo.
 
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Astronuc said:
Interjecting - So many things to look at with JWST, we probably need more than just one!
It will take a long time to digest all this stuff. Not only that, it may be overtaken in just a few years.

Wannabe astronomers alert. We seem to be on the threshold of a new astronomy golden age.

anorlunda said:
JWST is not the only one. There are four other space telescope projects in the works. All four of them are designed to orbit the L2 point. According to the video, all four are intended to be simpler and cheaper than the JWST; not surprising because technology marches on.

2:54 Habitable Exoplanet observatory (HabEx)
8:53 Lynx X-Ray observatory
12:00 Origins Space Telescope (OST)
17:17 Large Ultraviolet, Optical, Infrared Surveyor (LUVOIR)

 
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Related to What do high-mass X-ray binaries, or HMXBs, tell us?

1. What are high-mass X-ray binaries (HMXBs)?

High-mass X-ray binaries are binary star systems in which one of the stars is a high-mass star (typically greater than 10 times the mass of the Sun) and the other is a compact object, such as a neutron star or black hole. These systems are characterized by the emission of X-rays, which is produced when material from the high-mass star is accreted onto the compact object.

2. How do HMXBs form?

HMXBs are thought to form through two main processes: wind-fed accretion and Roche-lobe overflow. In wind-fed accretion, material from the high-mass star's stellar wind is captured by the compact object, while in Roche-lobe overflow, the high-mass star expands and transfers material to the compact object through its Roche lobe.

3. What can we learn from studying HMXBs?

Studying HMXBs can tell us about the evolution of high-mass stars, as well as the properties of compact objects such as neutron stars and black holes. They can also provide insight into the processes of accretion and X-ray emission.

4. How are HMXBs detected?

HMXBs are primarily detected through their X-ray emission, as this is the most prominent signature of the accretion process. They can also be detected through other wavelengths, such as radio, infrared, and optical, which can provide additional information about the system.

5. What are the implications of studying HMXBs?

Studying HMXBs can have implications for a variety of areas in astrophysics, including stellar evolution, compact object physics, and X-ray astronomy. They can also provide valuable insights into the formation and evolution of galaxies, as HMXBs are thought to be important sources of energy and chemical enrichment in the universe.

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