Optical/infrared polarised emission in X-ray binaries

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recently, evidence for synchrotron emission in both black-hole (BH) and neutron star X-ray binaries has been mounting, from optical/infrared spectral, polarimetric, and fast timing signatures. The synchrotron emission of jets can be highly linearly polarised, depending on the configuration of the magnetic field (B-field). Optical and infrared (OIR) polarimetric observations of X-ray binaries are presented in this brief review. The OIR polarimetric signature of relativistic jets is detected at levels of ∼1–10%, similarly to for active galactic nuclei (AGN) cores. This reveals that the magnetic geometry in the compact jets may be similar for supermassive and stellar-mass BHs. The B-fields near the jet base in most of these systems appear to be turbulent, variable and on average, aligned with the jet axis, although there are some exceptions. These measurements probe the physical conditions in the accretion (out)flow and demonstrate a new way of connecting inflow and outflow, using both rapid timing and polarisation. Variations in polarisation could be due to rapid changes of the ordering of the B-field in the emitting region, or in one case, flares from individual ejections or collisions between ejecta. It is predicted that in some cases, variable levels of X-ray polarisation from synchrotron emission originating in jets will be detected from accreting galactic BHs with upcoming spaceborne X-ray polarimeters.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number3
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018


  • Accretion
  • Accretion disks
  • ISM: jets and outflows
  • X-ray binaries

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics


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