Peering into the Dark Side: Magnesium Lines Establish a Massive Neutron Star in PSR J2215+5135

Linares, M.; Shahbaz, T.; Casares, J.
Bibliographical reference

The Astrophysical Journal, Volume 859, Issue 1, article id. 54, 14 pp. (2018).

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2018
Description
New millisecond pulsars (MSPs) in compact binaries provide a good opportunity to search for the most massive neutron stars. Their main-sequence companion stars are often strongly irradiated by the pulsar, displacing the effective center of light from their barycenter and making mass measurements uncertain. We present a series of optical spectroscopic and photometric observations of PSR J2215+5135, a “redback” binary MSP in a 4.14 hr orbit, and measure a drastic temperature contrast between the dark/cold (T N = 5660{}-380+260 K) and bright/hot (T D = 8080{}-280+470 K) sides of the companion star. We find that the radial velocities depend systematically on the atmospheric absorption lines used to measure them. Namely, the semi-amplitude of the radial velocity curve (RVC) of J2215 measured with magnesium triplet lines is systematically higher than that measured with hydrogen Balmer lines, by 10%. We interpret this as a consequence of strong irradiation, whereby metallic lines dominate the dark side of the companion (which moves faster) and Balmer lines trace its bright (slower) side. Further, using a physical model of an irradiated star to fit simultaneously the two-species RVCs and the three-band light curves, we find a center-of-mass velocity of K 2 = 412.3 ± 5.0 km s‑1 and an orbital inclination i = 63.°9{}-2.7+2.4. Our model is able to reproduce the observed fluxes and velocities without invoking irradiation by an extended source. We measure masses of M 1 = 2.27{}-0.15+0.17 M ⊙ and M 2 = 0.33{}-0.02+0.03 M ⊙ for the neutron star and the companion star, respectively. If confirmed, such a massive pulsar would rule out some of the proposed equations of state for the neutron star interior.
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