Torque Reversal in Accretion-powered X-Ray Pulsars Academic Article uri icon

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abstract

  • Accretion-powered X-ray pulsars 4U 1626-67, GX 1+4, and OAO 1657-415 have recently shown puzzling torque reversals. These reversals are characterized by short time scales, on the order of days, nearly identical spin-up and spin-down rates, and very small changes in X-ray luminosity. We propose that this phenomenon is the result of sudden dynamical changes in the accretion disks triggered by a gradual variation of mass accretion rates. These sudden torque reversals may occur at a critical accretion rate $\sim$ $10^{15}-10^{16}g~s^{-1}$ when the system makes a transition from (to) a primarily Keplerian flow to (from) a substantially sub-Keplerian, radial advective flow in the inner disk. For systems near spin equilibrium, the spin-up torques in the Keplerian state are slightly larger than the spin-down torques in the advective state, in agreement with observation. The abrupt reversals could be a signature of pulsar systems near spin equilibrium with the mass accretion rates modulated on a time scale of a year or longer near the critical accretion rate. It is interesting that cataclysmic variables and black hole soft X-ray transients change their X-ray emission properties at accretion rates similar to the pulsars' critical rate. We speculate that the dynamical change in pulsar systems shares a common physical origin with white dwarf and black hole accretion disk systems.

publication date

  • May 20, 1997