Observations of a GX 301-2 Apastron Flare with the X-Calibur Hard X-Ray Polarimeter Supported by NICER, the Swift XRT and BAT, and Fermi GBM
The accretion-powered X-ray pulsar GX 301-2 was observed with the balloon-borne X-Calibur hard X-ray polarimeter during late 2018 December, with contiguous observations by the Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer Mission (NICER) X-ray telescope, the Swift X-ray Telescope and Burst Alert Telescope, and the Fermi Gamma-ray Burst Monitor spanning several months. The observations detected the pulsar in a rare apastron flaring state coinciding with a significant spin up of the pulsar discovered with the Fermi Gamma-ray Burst Monitor. The X-Calibur, NICER, and Swift observations reveal a pulse profile strongly dominated by one main peak, and the NICER and Swift data show strong variation of the profile from pulse to pulse. The X-Calibur observations constrain for the first time the linear polarization of the 15-35 keV emission from a highly magnetized accreting neutron star, indicating a polarization degree of (27-27+38) % (90% confidence limit) averaged over all pulse phases. We discuss the spin up and the X-ray spectral and polarimetric results in the context of theoretical predictions. We conclude with a discussion of the scientific potential of future observations of highly magnetized neutron stars with the more sensitive follow-up mission XL-Calibur.
The Astrophysical Journal
- Pub Date:
- March 2020
- Astrophysics - High Energy Astrophysical Phenomena;
- High Energy Physics - Experiment
- Accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal. 20 pages, 19 figures, 4 tables