The accretion of matter onto black holes and neutron stars often leads to the launching of outflows that can greatly affect the environments surrounding the compact object. An important means of studying these winds is through X-ray absorption line spectroscopy, which allows us to probe their properties along a single sightline, but usually provides little information about the global three-dimensional wind structure, which is vital for understanding the launching mechanism and total wind energy budget. Here, we study Hercules X-1, a nearly edge-on X-ray binary with a warped accretion disk precessing with a period of about 35 d. This disk precession results in changing sightlines towards the neutron star, through the ionized outflow. We perform time-resolved X-ray spectroscopy over the precession phase and detect a strong decrease in the wind column density by three orders of magnitude as our sightline progressively samples the wind at greater heights above the accretion disk. The wind becomes clumpier as it rises upwards and expands away from the neutron star. Modelling the warped disk shape, we create a two-dimensional map of wind properties. This measurement of the vertical structure of an accretion disk wind allows direct comparisons with three-dimensional global simulations to reveal the outflow launching mechanism.
- Pub Date:
- June 2023
- Astrophysics - High Energy Astrophysical Phenomena
- Published in Nature Astronomy on April 10, available at https://www.nature.com/articles/s41550-023-01929-7