The "Magnificent Seven" (M7) are a group of radio-quiet Isolated Neutron Stars (INSs) discovered in the soft X-rays through their purely thermal surface emission. Owing to the large inferred magnetic fields (B ≈ 10 13 G), radiation from these sources is expected to be substantially polarised, independently on the mechanism actually responsible for the thermal emission. A large observed polarisation degree is, however, expected only if quantumelectrodynamics (QED) polarisation effects are present in the magnetised vacuum around the star. The detection of a strongly linearly polarised signal would therefore provide the first observational evidence of QED effects in the strong-field regime. While polarisation measurements in the soft X-rays are not feasible yet, optical polarisation measurements are within reach also for quite faint targets, like the M7 which have optical counterparts with magnitudes ≈ 26-28. Here, we report on the measurement of optical linear polarisation for the prototype, and brightest member, of the class, RX J1856.5−3754 (V ∼ 25.5), the first ever for one of the M7, obtained with the Very Large Telescope. We measured a polarisation degree P.D. = 16.43% ± 5.26% and a polarisation position angle P.A. = 145. • 39 ± 9. • 44, computed east of the North Celestial Meridian. The P.D. that we derive is large enough to support the presence of vacuum birefringence, as predicted by QED.
New-generation X-ray polarimeters currently under development promise to open a new window in the study of high-energy astrophysical sources. Among them, neutron stars appear particularly suited for polarization measurements. Radiation from the (cooling) surface of a neutron star is expected to exhibit a large intrinsic polarization degree due to the star strong magnetic field (≈ 10 12 -10 15 G), which influences the plasma opacity in the outermost stellar layers. The polarization fraction and polarization angle as measured by an instrument, however, do not necessary coincide with the intrinsic ones derived from models of surface emission. This is due to the effects of quantum electrodynamics in the highly magnetized vacuum around the star (the vacuum polarization) coupled with the rotation of the Stokes parameters in the plane perpendicular to the line of sight induced by the non-uniform magnetic field. Here we revisit the problem and present an efficient method for computing the observed polarization fraction and polarization angle in the case of radiation coming from the entire surface of a neutron star, accounting for both vacuum polarization and geometrical effects due to the extended emitting region. Our approach is fairly general and is illustrated in the case of blackbody emission from a neutron star with either a dipolar or a (globally) twisted magnetic field.
The study of magnetars is of particular relevance since these objects are the only laboratories where the physics in ultra-strong magnetic fields can be directly tested. Until now, spectroscopic and timing measurements at X-ray energies in soft γ-repeaters (SGRs) and anomalous X-ray pulsar (AXPs) have been the main source of information about the physical properties of a magnetar and of its magnetosphere. Spectral fitting in the ∼ 0.5-10 keV range allowed to validate the "twisted magnetosphere" model, probing the structure of the external field and estimating the density and velocity of the magnetospheric currents. Spectroscopy alone, however, may fail in disambiguating the two key parameters governing magnetospheric scattering (the charge velocity and the twist angle) and is quite insensitive to the source geometry. X-ray polarimetry, on the other hand, can provide a quantum leap in the field by adding two extra observables, the linear polarization degree and the polarization angle. Using the bright AXP 1RXS J170849.0-400910 as a template, we show that phase-resolved polarimetric measurements can unambiguously determine the model parameters, even with a small X-ray polarimetry mission carrying modern photoelectric detectors and existing X-ray optics. We also show that polarimetric measurements can pinpoint vacuum polarization effects and thus provide an indirect evidence for ultra-strong magnetic fields.
ABSTRACTeXTP is a science mission designed to study the state of matter under extreme conditions of density, gravity and magnetism. Primary goals are the determination of the equation of state of matter at supra-nuclear density, the measurement of QED effects in highly magnetized star, and the study of accretion in the strong-field regime of gravity. Primary targets include isolated and binary neutron stars, strong magnetic field systems like magnetars, and stellar-mass and supermassive black holes. The mission carries a unique and unprecedented suite of state-of-the-art scientific instruments enabling for the first time ever the simultaneous spectral-timing-polarimetry studies of cosmic sources in the energy range from 0.5-30 keV (and beyond). Key elements of the payload are: the Spectroscopic Focusing Array (SFA) -a set of 11 X-ray optics for a total effective area of ∼0.9 m 2 and 0.6 m 2 at 2 keV and 6 keV respectively, equipped with Silicon Drift Detectors offering <180 eV spectral resolution; the Large Area Detector (LAD) -a deployable set of 640 Silicon Drift Detectors, for a total effective area of ∼3.4 m 2 , between 6 and 10 keV, and spectral resolution better than 250 eV; the Polarimetry Focusing Array (PFA) -a set of 2 X-ray telescope, for a total effective area of 250 cm 2 at 2 keV, equipped with imaging gas pixel photoelectric polarimeters; the Wide Field Monitor (WFM) -a set of 3 coded mask wide field units, equipped with position-sensitive Silicon Drift Detectors, each covering a 90 degrees x 90 degrees field of view. The eXTP international consortium includes major institutions of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Universities in China, as well as major institutions in several European countries and the United States. The predecessor of eXTP, the XTP mission concept, has been selected and funded as one of the so-called background missions in the Strategic Priority Space Science Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences since 2011. The strong European participation has significantly enhanced the scientific capabilities of eXTP. The planned launch date of the mission is earlier than 2025.
Magnetars are believed to host the strongest magnetic fields in the present universe (B 10 14 G) and the study of their persistent emission in the X-ray band offers an unprecendented opportunity to gain insight into physical processes in the presence of ultra-strong magnetic fields. Up to now, most of our knowledge about magnetar sources came from spectral analysis, which allowed to test the resonant Compton scattering scenario and to probe the structure of the star magnetosphere. On the other hand, radiation emitted from magnetar surface is expected to be strongly polarized and its observed polarization pattern bears the imprint of both scatterings onto magnetospheric charges and QED effects as it propagates in the magnetized vacuum around the star. X-ray polarimeters scheduled to fly in the next years will finally allow to exploit the wealth of information stored in the polarization observables. Here we revisit the problem of assessing the spectro-polarimetric properties of magnetar persistent emission. At variance with previous investigations, proper account for more physical surface emission models is made by considering either a condensed surface or a magnetized atmosphere. Results are used to simulate polarimetric observations with the forthcoming Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE). We find that X-ray polarimetry will allow to detect QED vacuum effects for all the emission models we considered and to discriminate among them.
Neutron stars harbor extremely strong magnetic fields within their solid outer crust. The topology of this field strongly influences the surface temperature distribution and, hence, the star's observational properties. In this work, we present the first realistic simulations of the coupled crustal magnetothermal evolution of isolated neutron stars in three dimensions accounting for neutrino emission, obtained with the pseudo-spectral code PARODY. We investigate both the secular evolution, especially in connection with the onset of instabilities during the Hall phase, and the short-term evolution following episodes of localized energy injection. Simulations show that a resistive tearing instability develops in about a Hall time if the initial toroidal field exceeds »10 15 G. This leads to crustal failures because of the huge magnetic stresses coupled with the local temperature enhancement produced by dissipation. Localized heat deposition in the crust results in the appearance of hot spots on the star surface, which can exhibit a variety of patterns. Because the transport properties are strongly influenced by the magnetic field, the hot regions tend to drift away and get deformed following the magnetic field lines while cooling. The shapes obtained with our simulations are reminiscent of those recently derived from NICER X-ray observations of the millisecond pulsar PSRJ0030+0451.
Accretion disks around stellar-mass black holes (BHs) emit radiation peaking in the soft Xrays when the source is in the thermal state. The emerging photons are polarized and, for symmetry reasons, the polarization integrated over the source is expected to be either parallel or perpendicular to the (projected) disk symmetry axis, because of electron scattering in the disk. However, due to General Relativity effects photon polarization vectors will rotate with respect to their original orientation, by an amount depending on both the BH spin and the observer's inclination. Hence, X-ray polarization measurements may provide important information about strong gravity effects around these sources. Along with the spectral and polarization properties of radiation which reaches directly the observer once emitted from the disk, in this paper we also include the contribution of returning radiation, i.e. photons that are bent by the strong BH gravity to return again on the disk, where they scatter until eventually escaping to infinity. A comparison between our results and those obtained in previous works by different authors show an overall good agreement, despite the use of different code architectures. We finally consider the effects of absorption in the disk material by including more realistic albedo profiles for the disk surface. Our findings in this respect show that considering also the ionization state of the disk may deeply modify the behavior of polarization observables.
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