Limits on thermal variations in a dozen quiescent neutron stars over a decade

In quiescent low-mass X-ray binaries (qLMXBs) containing neutron stars, the origin of the thermal X-ray component may be either release of heat from the core of the neutron star, or continuing low-level accretion. In general, heat from the core should be stable on timescales $<10^4$ years, while continuing accretion may produce variations on a range of timescales. While some quiescent neutron stars (e.g. Cen X-4, Aql X-1) have shown variations in their thermal components on a range of timescales, several others, particularly those in globular clusters with no detectable nonthermal hard X-rays (fit with a powerlaw), have shown no measurable variations. Here, we constrain the spectral variations of 12 low mass X-ray binaries in 3 globular clusters over $\sim10$ years. We find no evidence of variations in 10 cases, with limits on temperature variations below 11% for the 7 qLMXBs without powerlaw components, and limits on variations below 20% for 3 other qLMXBs that do show non-thermal emission. However, in 2 qLMXBs showing powerlaw components in their spectra (NGC 6440 CX 1 & Terzan 5 CX 12) we find marginal evidence for a 10% decline in temperature, suggesting the presence of continuing low-level accretion. This work adds to the evidence that the thermal X-ray component in quiescent neutron stars without powerlaw components can be explained by heat deposited in the core during outbursts. Finally, we also investigate the correlation between hydrogen column density (N$_H$) and optical extinction (A$_V$) using our sample and current models of interstellar X-ray absorption, finding $N_H ({\rm cm}^{-2}) = (2.81\pm0.13)\times10^{21} A_V$.

Comments: 16 pages, 5 figures, MNRAS, in press

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