Variation in emission and absorption lines and continuum flux by orbital phase in Vela X-1

Greg Goldstein*, David P. Huenemoerder, David Blank

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Citations (Scopus)


High-resolution spectral studies were undertaken at orbital phases (φ) 0, 0.25, and 0.5 on the high-mass X-ray binary Vela X-1 using archival Chandra data. We present (1) the first detailed analysis of the multiple strong narrow emission lines present in φ = 0.5, (2) an analysis of the absorption of the continuum in φ = 0.5, and (3) the first detection of narrow emission and absorption lines in φ = 0.25. Multiple fluorescent and H- and He-like emission lines in the band 1.6-20 Å in eclipse are partially obscured at φ = 0.25 by the X-ray continuum. The φ = 0.25 spectrum displays three triplets, two with a blueshifted resonance line in absorption and the intercombination and forbidden lines in emission, and shows in absorption other blueshifted lines seen in emission in eclipse. At φ = 0.5 the soft X-ray continuum diminishes revealing an "eclipse-like" spectrum; however, line flux values are around 13-fold those in eclipse. We conclude the narrow emission lines in Vela X-1 become apparent when the continuum is blocked from the line of sight, either by eclipse or by scattering and/or absorption from a wake or cloud. The H- and He-like lines arise in warm photoionized regions in the stellar wind, while the fluorescent lines (including a Ni Kα line) are produced in cooler clumps of gas outside these regions. Absorption of the 5-13 Å continuum at φ = 0.5 may be caused by an accretion wake composed of dense stagnant photoionized plasma inside a Stromgren zone. Multiple fluorescent emission lines may be a common feature of the supergiant category of HMXBs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2310-2321
Number of pages12
JournalAstronomical Journal
Issue number4 1780
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Circumstellar matter
  • Line: formation
  • Pulsars: individual (Vela X-1)
  • Stars: winds, outflows
  • Supergiants
  • X-rays: binaries


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