An observational method for fast stochastic X-ray polarimetry-timing

Adam R. Ingram, Thomas J. MacCarone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The upcoming launch of the first space based X-ray polarimeter in ∼ 40 years will provide powerful new diagnostic information to study accreting compact objects. In particular, analysis of rapid variability of the polarisation degree and angle will provide the opportunity to probe the relativistic motions of material in the strong gravitational fields close to the compact objects, and enable new methods to measure black hole and neutron star parameters. However, polarisation properties are measured in a statistical sense, and a statistically significant polarisation detection requires a fairly long exposure, even for the brightest objects. Therefore, the sub-minute timescales of interest are not accessible using a direct time-resolved analysis of polarisation degree and angle. Phase-folding can be used for coherent pulsations, but not for stochastic variability such as quasi-periodic oscillations. Here, we introduce a Fourier method that enables statistically robust detection of stochastic polarisation variability for arbitrarily short variability timescales. Our method is analogous to commonly used spectral-timing techniques. We find that it should be possible in the near future to detect the quasi-periodic swings in polarisation angle predicted by Lense-Thirring precession of the inner accretion flow. This is contingent on the mean polarisation degree of the source being greater than ∼ 4 - 5%, which is consistent with the best current constraints on Cygnus X-1 from the late 1970s.

Original languageEnglish
JournalUnknown Journal
StatePublished - Jul 20 2017


  • Black hole physics
  • Methods: data analysis
  • X-rays: general
  • polarization

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