Coupling hydrodynamics with comoving frame radiative transfer: II. Stellar wind stratification in the high-mass X-ray binary Vela X-1

A. A.C. Sander, F. Fürst, P. Kretschmar, L. M. Oskinova, H. Todt, R. Hainich, T. Shenar, W. R. Hamann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Context. Vela X-1, a prototypical high-mass X-ray binary (HMXB), hosts a neutron star (NS) in a close orbit around an early-B supergiant donor star. Accretion of the donor star's wind onto the NS powers its strong X-ray luminosity. To understand the physics of HMXBs, detailed knowledge about the donor star winds is required. Aims. To gain a realistic picture of the donor star in Vela X-1, we constructed a hydrodynamically consistent atmosphere model describing the wind stratification while properly reproducing the observed donor spectrum. To investigate how X-ray illumination affects the stellar wind, we calculated additional models for different X-ray luminosity regimes. Methods. We used the recently updated version of the Potsdam Wolf-Rayet code to consistently solve the hydrodynamic equation together with the statistical equations and the radiative transfer. Results. The wind flow in Vela X-1 is driven by ions from various elements, with Fe iii and S iii leading in the outer wind. The model-predicted mass-loss rate is in line with earlier empirical studies. The mass-loss rate is almost unaffected by the presence of the accreting NS in the wind. The terminal wind velocity is confirmed at v≈ 600 km s-1. On the other hand, the wind velocity in the inner region where the NS is located is only ≈ 100 km s-1, which is not expected on the basis of a standard β-velocity law. In models with an enhanced level of X-rays, the velocity field in the outer wind can be altered. If the X-ray flux is too high, the acceleration breaks down because the ionization increases. Conclusions. Accounting for radiation hydrodynamics, our Vela X-1 donor atmosphere model reveals a low wind speed at the NS location, and it provides quantitative information on wind driving in this important HMXB.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberA60
JournalAstronomy and Astrophysics
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Stars: Atmospheres
  • Stars: Early-type
  • Stars: Mass-loss
  • Stars: Massive
  • Stars: winds, outflows
  • X-rays: Binaries

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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