2020 Undergraduate Research Showcase


Identifying Accreting X-Ray Binaries in the Small Magellanic Cloud

Document Type

Student Presentation

Presentation Date


Faculty Sponsor

Dr. Daryl J. Macomb


X-ray binaries are among the most luminous, rare, and mysterious objects in astrophysics—to date only a few hundred confirmed sources are known. Usually these systems contain a dense stellar remnant—either a neutron star or stellar mass black hole—coupled to a “normal” star. The powerful gravitational field of the stellar remnant results in mass transfer into an accretion disk, resulting in the radiation of energetic x-rays we detect with orbital observatories like CHANDRA and XMM-Newton—ground-based observations are impossible as our atmosphere is largely opaque to the x-ray spectrum.

Our research focuses on the identification of accreting x-ray pulsar binaries—those which are actively adding to their accretion disks—which we detect through changes in period of known sources identified with archival cross-referenced analysis of both XMM-Newton and CHANDRA data. In addition to this main goal we have also sought to identify new potential pulsar sources that may have been previously missed or disqualified at one time or another through a rigorous statistical analysis of “borderline” sources over longer timescales.

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