The high energy X-ray probe ( HEX-P ): studying extreme accretion with ultraluminous X-ray sources

Matteo Bachetti, Matthew J. Middleton, Ciro Pinto, Andrés Gúrpide, Dominic J. Walton, Murray Brightman, Bret Lehmer, Timothy P. Roberts, Georgios Vasilopoulos, Jason Alford, Roberta Amato, Elena Ambrosi, Lixin Dai, Hannah P. Earnshaw, Hamza El Byad, Javier A. García, Gian Luca Israel, Amruta Jaodand, Kristin Madsen, Chandreyee MaitraShifra Mandel, Kaya Mori, Fabio Pintore, Ken Ohsuga, Maura Pilia, Daniel Stern, George Younes, Anna Wolter

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Introduction: Ultraluminous X-ray sources (ULXs) represent an extreme class of accreting compact objects: from the identification of some of the accretors as neutron stars to the detection of powerful winds travelling at 0.1–0.2 c, the increasing evidence points towards ULXs harbouring stellar-mass compact objects undergoing highly super-Eddington accretion. Measuring their intrinsic properties, such as the accretion rate onto the compact object, the outflow rate, the masses of accretor/companion-hence their progenitors, lifetimes, and future evolution-is challenging due to ULXs being mostly extragalactic and in crowded fields. Yet ULXs represent our best opportunity to understand super-Eddington accretion physics and the paths through binary evolution to eventual double compact object binaries and gravitational-wave sources.

Methods: Through a combination of end-to-end and single-source simulations, we investigate the ability of HEX-P to study ULXs in the context of their host galaxies and compare it to XMM-Newton and NuSTAR, the current instruments with the most similar capabilities. Results: HEX-P’s higher sensitivity, which is driven by its narrow point-spread function and low background, allows it to detect pulsations and broad spectral features from ULXs better than XMM-Newton and NuSTAR.

Discussion: We describe the value of HEX-P in understanding ULXs and their associated key physics, through a combination of broadband sensitivity, timing resolution, and angular resolution, which make the mission ideal for pulsation detection and low-background, broadband spectral studies.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1289432
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalFrontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences
Early online date27 Nov 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 27 Nov 2023


  • accretion
  • HEX-P
  • pulsars
  • spectra
  • ultraluminous X-ray sources
  • black holes


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