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X-ray hiccups from Sagittarius A* observed by XMM-Newton: The second brightest flare and three moderate flares caught in half a day

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posted on 2012-10-24, 09:22 authored by D. Porquet, N. Grosso, P. Predehl, G. Hasinger, B. Aschenbach, Y. Tanaka, R. Genzel, K. Dodds-Eden, F. Yusef-Zadeh, G. Trap, A. Goldwurm, P. Ferrando, F. Melia, R. S. Warwick, M. Sakano, G. Bélanger
Context. Our Galaxy hosts at its dynamical center Sgr A*, the closest supermassive black hole. Surprisingly, its luminosity is several orders of magnitude lower than the Eddington luminosity. However, the recent observations of occasional rapid X-ray flares from Sgr A* provide constraints on the accretion and radiation mechanisms at work close to its event horizon. Aims. Our aim is to investigate the flaring activity of Sgr A* and to constrain the physical properties of the X-ray flares. Methods. In Spring 2007, we observed Sgr A* with XMM-Newton with a total exposure of ~230 ks. We have performed timing and spectral analysis of the new X-ray flares detected during this campaign. To study the range of flare spectral properties, in a consistent manner, we have also reprocessed, using the same analysis procedure and the latest calibration, archived XMM-Newton data of previously reported rapid flares. The dust scattering was taken into account during the spectral fitting. We also used Chandra archived observations of the quiescent state of Sgr A* for comparison. Results. On April 4, 2007, we observed for the first time within a time interval of roughly half a day, an enhanced incidence rate of X-ray flaring, with a bright flare followed by three flares of more moderate amplitude. The former event represents the second brightest X-ray flare from Sgr A* on record with a peak amplitude of about 100 above the quiescent luminosity. This new bright flare exhibits similar light-curve shape (nearly symmetrical), duration (~3 ks) and spectral characteristics to the very bright flare observed in October 3, 2002 by XMM-Newton. The measured spectral parameters of the new bright flare, assuming an absorbed power law model taken into account dust scattering effect, are $N_{\rm H}$ = $12.3^{+2.1}_{-1.8}\times 10^{22}$ cm-2 and $\Gamma$ = 2.3 $\pm$ 0.3 calculated at the 90% confidence level. The spectral parameter fits of the sum of the three following moderate flares, while lower ($N_{\rm H}$ = $8.8^{+4.4}_{-3.2} \times 10^{22}$ cm-2 and $\Gamma = 1.7^{+0.7}_{-0.6}$), are compatible within the error bars with those of the bright flares. The column density found, for a power-law model taking into account the dust scattering, during the flares is at least two times higher than the value expected from the (dust) visual extinction toward Sgr A* ($A_{\rm V}$ ~ 25 mag), i.e., 4.5 $\times$ 1022 cm-2. However, our fitting of the Sgr A* quiescent spectra obtained with Chandra, for a power-law model taking into account the dust scattering, shows that an excess of column density is already present during the non-flaring phase. Conclusions. The two brightest X-ray flares observed so far from Sgr A* exhibited similar soft spectra.



Astronomy & Astrophysics, 2008, 488 (2), pp. 549-557


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