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Durham University

Department of Physics

Staff profile

Publication details for Prof Tim Roberts

Song, X., Walton, D. J., Lansbury, G. B., Evans, P. A., Fabian, A. C., Earnshaw, H. & Roberts, T. P. (2019). The Hunt for Pulsating Ultraluminous X-ray Sources. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 491(1): 1260-1277.

Author(s) from Durham


Motivated by the recent discoveries that six Ultraluminous X-ray Sources (ULXs) are powered by highly super-Eddington X-ray pulsars, we searched for additional pulsating ULX (PULX) candidates by identifying sources that exhibit long-term flux variability of at least an order of magnitude (a common feature seen in the 6 known PULXs, which may potentially be related to transitions to the propeller regime). Expanding on previous studies, we used the available fluxes from XMM-Newton, Swift and Chandra, along with carefully computed upper limits in cases of a non-detection, to construct long-term lightcurves for a sample of 296 ULXs selected from the XMM-Newton archive. Among these 296, we find 25 sources showing flux variability larger than a factor of 10, of which 17 show some evidence for (or are at least consistent with) exhibiting bi-modal flux distributions, as would be expected for sources undergoing propeller transitions. These sources are excellent candidates for continued monitoring programs to further test for this behaviour. There are 3 sources in our final sample with fluxes similar to NGC 5907 ULX1, currently the faintest known PULX, which would also be good targets for deeper observations with current facilities to search for pulsations. For the rest of the PULX candidates identified here, the next generation of X-ray telescopes (such as Athena) may be required to determine their nature owing to their lower peak fluxes.