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Durham University

Department of Physics

Staff profile

Publication details for Prof Tim Roberts

Heil L.M., Vaughan S. & Roberts T.P. (2009). A Systematic Study of Variability in a Sample of Ultraluminous X-ray Sources. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 397(2): 1061-1072.

Author(s) from Durham


We present results from a study of short-term variability in 19 archival observations by XMM–Newton of 16 ultraluminous X-ray sources (ULXs). Eight observations (six sources) showed intrinsic variability with power spectra in the form of either a power-law or broken power-law-like continuum and in some cases quasi-periodic oscillations (QPOs). The remaining observations were used to place upper limits on the strength of possible variability hidden within. Seven observations (seven sources) yielded upper limits comparable to, or higher than, the values measured from those observations with detectable variations. These represented the seven faintest sources, all with fx < 3 × 10−12 erg cm−2 s−1. In contrast, there are four observations (three sources) that gave upper limits significantly lower than both the values measured from the ULX observations with detectable variations, and the values expected by comparison with luminous Galactic black hole X-ray binaries (BHBs) and active galactic nuclei (AGN) in the observed frequency bandpass (10−3–1 Hz). This is the case irrespective of whether one assumes characteristic frequencies appropriate for a stellar mass (10 M⊙) or an intermediate mass (1000 M⊙) black hole, and means that in some ULXs the variability is significantly suppressed compared to bright BHBs and AGN. We discuss ways to account for this unusual suppression in terms of both observational and intrinsic effects and whether these solutions are supported by our results.