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Durham University

Department of Physics

Staff profile

Publication details for Prof Tim Roberts

Roberts, T. P., Warwick, R. S., Ward, M. J. & Murray, S. S. (2002). A Chandra observation of the interacting pair of galaxies NGC 4485/4490. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 337(2): 677-692.

Author(s) from Durham


We report the results of a 20-ks Chandra ACIS-S observation of the galaxy pair NGC 4485/4490. This is an interacting system containing a late-type spiral with an enhanced star formation rate (NGC 4490), and an irregular companion that possesses a disturbed morphology. A total of 29 discrete X-ray sources are found coincident with NGC 4490, but only one is found within NGC 4485. The sources range in observed X-ray luminosity from ∼2 × 1037 to 4 × 1039 erg s−1. The more luminous sources appear, on average, to be spectrally harder than the fainter sources, an effect that is attributable to increased absorption in their spectra. Extensive diffuse X-ray emission is detected coincident with the disc of NGC 4490, and in the tidal tail of NGC 4485, which appears to be thermal in nature and hence the signature of a hot interstellar medium in both galaxies. However, the diffuse component accounts for only ∼10 per cent of the total X-ray luminosity of the system (2 × 1040 erg s−1, 0.5–8 keV), which arises predominantly in a handful of the brightest discrete sources. This diffuse emission fraction is unusually low for a galaxy pair which has many characteristics that would lead it to be classified as a starburst system, possibly as a consequence of the small gravitational potential well of the system. The discrete source population, on the other hand, is similar to that observed in other starburst systems, possessing a flat luminosity function slope of ∼−0.6 and a total of six ultraluminous X-ray sources (ULX). Five of the ULX are identified as probable black hole X-ray binary systems, and the sixth (which is coincident with a radio continuum source) is identified as an X-ray luminous supernova remnant. The ULX all lie in star formation regions, providing further evidence of the link between the ULX phenomenon and active star formation. Importantly, this shows that even in star-forming regions, the ULX population is dominated by accreting systems. We discuss the implications of this work for physical models of the nature of ULX, and in particular how it argues against the intermediate-mass black hole hypothesis.