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Unconventional origin of supersoft X-ray emission from a white dwarf binary
Maccarone, Thomas J.; Nelson, Thomas J.; Brown, Peter J.; Mukai, Koji; Charles, Philip A.; Rajoelimanana, Andry; Buckley, David A. H.; Strader, Jay; Chomiuk, Laura; Britt, Christopher T.; Jha, Saurabh W.; Mróz, Przemek; Udalski, Andrzej; Szymanski, Michal K.; Soszynski, Igor; Poleski, Radoslaw; Kozlowski, Szymon; Pietrukowicz, Pawel; Skowron, Jan; Ulaczyk, Krzysztof
AA(Department of Physics and Astronomy, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX, USA 0000-0003-0976-4755), AB(Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA), AC(Department of Physics and Astronomy, George P. and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics and Astronomy, College Station, TX, USA), AD(CRESST, X-ray Astrophysics Laboratory, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD, USA 0000-0002-8286-8094), AE(Physics and Astronomy Department, Faculty of Physical Sciences and Engineering, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK), AF(Department of Physics, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa), AG(South African Astronomical Observatory, Cape Town, South Africa), AH(Department of Physics and Astronomy, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, USA), AI(Department of Physics and Astronomy, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, USA), AJ(Department of Physics and Astronomy, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, USA), AK(Department of Physics and Astronomy, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, Piscataway, NJ, USA), AL(Warsaw University Observatory, Warsaw, Poland), AM(Warsaw University Observatory, Warsaw, Poland), AN(Warsaw University Observatory, Warsaw, Poland), AO(Warsaw University Observatory, Warsaw, Poland), AP(Warsaw University Observatory, Warsaw, Poland; Department of Astronomy, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, USA), AQ(Warsaw University Observatory, Warsaw, Poland), AR(Warsaw University Observatory, Warsaw, Poland 0000-0002-2339-5899), AS(Warsaw University Observatory, Warsaw, Poland 0000-0002-2335-1730), AT(Warsaw University Observatory, Warsaw, Poland; Department of Physics, University of Warwick, Coventry, UK)
Nature Astronomy, Volume 3, p. 173-177
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Supersoft X-ray sources are stellar objects that emit X-rays with temperatures of about 1 million kelvin and luminosities well in excess of what can be produced by stellar coronae. It has generally been presumed that the objects in this class are binary star systems in which mass transfer leads to nuclear fusion on the surface of a white dwarf1. Classical novae---the runaway fusion events on the surfaces of white dwarfs---generally have supersoft phases, and it is often stated that the bright steady supersoft X-ray sources seen from white dwarfs accreting mass at a high rate are undergoing steady nuclear fusion1. Here, we report the discovery of a transient supersoft source in the Small Magellanic Cloud without any signature of nuclear fusion having taken place. This discovery indicates that the X-ray emission probably comes from a `spreading layer'2---a belt on the surface of the white dwarf near the inner edge of the accretion disk in which a large fraction of the total accretion energy is emitted---and (albeit more tentatively) that the accreting white dwarf is relatively massive. We thus establish that the presence of a supersoft source cannot always be used as a tracer of nuclear fusion, in contradiction with decades-old consensus about the nature of supersoft emission.
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