Optical and ultraviolet pulsed emission from an accreting millisecond pulsar

F. Ambrosino, A. Miraval Zanon, A. Papitto, F. Coti Zelati, S. Campana, P. D’Avanzo, L. Stella, T. Di Salvo, L. Burderi, P. Casella, A. Sanna, D. de Martino, M. Cadelano, A. Ghedina, F. Leone, F. Meddi, P. Cretaro, M. C. Baglio, E. Poretti, R. P. MignaniD. F. Torres, G. L. Israel, M. Cecconi, D. M. Russell, M. D. Gonzalez Gomez, A. L. Riverol Rodriguez, H. Perez Ventura, M. Hernandez Diaz, J. J. San Juan, D. M. Bramich, F. Lewis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Millisecond spinning, low-magnetic-field neutron stars are believed to attain their fast rotation in a 0.1–1-Gyr-long phase during which they accrete matter endowed with angular momentum from a low-mass companion star1. Despite extensive searches, coherent periodicities originating from accreting neutron star magnetospheres have been detected only at X-ray energies2 and in ~10% of the currently known systems3. Here we report the detection of optical and ultraviolet coherent pulsations at the X-ray period of the transient low-mass X-ray binary system SAX J1808.4−3658, during an accretion outburst that occurred in August 20194. At the time of the observations, the pulsar was surrounded by an accretion disk, displayed X-ray pulsations and its luminosity was consistent with magnetically funnelled accretion onto the neutron star. Current accretion models fail to account for the luminosity of both optical and ultraviolet pulsations; these are instead more likely to be driven by synchro-curvature radiation5,6 in the pulsar magnetosphere or just outside of it. This interpretation would imply that particle acceleration can take place even when mass accretion is going on, and opens up new perspectives in the study of coherent optical/ultraviolet pulsations from fast-spinning accreting neutron stars in low-mass X-ray binary systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)552-559
Number of pages8
JournalNature Astronomy
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics


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