Constraining relativistic bow shock properties in rotation-powered millisecond pulsar binaries
Harding, Alice K.
Baring, Matthew G.
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Multiwavelength follow-up of unidentified Fermi sources has vastly expanded the number of known galactic-field "black widow" and "redback" millisecond pulsar binaries. Focusing on their rotation-powered state, we interpret the radio to X-ray phenomenology in a consistent framework. We advocate the existence of two distinct modes differing in their intrabinary shock orientation, distinguished by the phase centering of the double-peaked X-ray orbital modulation originating from mildly relativistic Doppler boosting. By constructing a geometric model for radio eclipses, we constrain the shock geometry as functions of binary inclination and shock standoff R 0. We develop synthetic X-ray synchrotron orbital light curves and explore the model parameter space allowed by radio eclipse constraints applied on archetypal systems B1957+20 and J1023+0038. For B1957+20, from radio eclipses the standoff is R 0 ~ 0.15–0.3 fraction of binary separation from the companion center, depending on the orbit inclination. Constructed X-ray light curves for B1957+20 using these values are qualitatively consistent with those observed, and we find occultation of the shock by the companion as a minor influence, demanding significant Doppler factors to yield double peaks. For J1023+0038, radio eclipses imply R 0 lesssim 0.4, while X-ray light curves suggest 0.1 lesssim R 0 lesssim 0.3 (from the pulsar). Degeneracies in the model parameter space encourage further development to include transport considerations. Generically, the spatial variation along the shock of the underlying electron power-law index should yield energy dependence in the shape of light curves, motivating future X-ray phase-resolved spectroscopic studies to probe the unknown physics of pulsar winds and relativistic shock acceleration therein