Probing the Crust of the Neutron Star in EXO 0748-676 [HEAP]

X-ray observations of quiescent X-ray binaries have the potential to provide insight into the structure and the composition of neutron stars. EXO 0748-676 had been actively accreting for over 24 years before its outburst ceased in late 2008. Subsequent X-ray monitoring revealed a gradual decay of the quiescent thermal emission that can be attributed to cooling of the accretion-heated neutron star crust. In this work, we report on new Chandra and Swift observations that extend the quiescent monitoring to ~5 yr post-outburst. We find that the neutron star temperature remained at ~117 eV between 2009 and 2011, but had decreased to ~110 eV in 2013. This suggests that the crust has not fully cooled yet, consistent with the fact that the temperature remains higher than observed in 1980, ~4 yr prior to the accretion phase (~95 eV). Comparing the data to thermal evolution simulations reveals that the apparent lack of cooling between 2009 and 2011 could possibly be a signature of convection driven by phase separation of light and heavy nuclei in the outer layers of the neutron star.

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N. Degenaar, Z. Medin, A. Cumming, et. al.
Wed, 12 Mar 14