THE 0.3-30 keV spectra of powerful starburst galaxies: NuSTAR and chandra observations of NGC 3256 and NGC 3310

B. D. Lehmer, J. B. Tyler, A. E. Hornschemeier, D. R. Wik, M. Yukita, V. Antoniou, S. Boggs, F. E. Christensen, W. W. Craig, C. J. Hailey, F. A. Harrison, T. J. Maccarone, A. Ptak, D. Stern, A. Zezas, W. W. Zhang

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We present nearly simultaneous Chandra and NuSTAR observations of two actively star-forming galaxies within 50 Mpc: NGC 3256 and NGC 3310. Both galaxies are significantly detected by both Chandra and NuSTAR, which together provide the first-ever spectra of these two galaxies spanning 0.3-30 keV. The X-ray emission from both galaxies is spatially resolved by Chandra; we find that hot gas dominates the E < 1-3 keV emission while ultraluminous X-ray sources (ULXs) provide majority contributions to the emission at E > 1-3 keV. The NuSTAR galaxy-wide spectra of both galaxies follow steep power-law distributions with Γ ≈ 2.6 at E > 5-7 keV. Using new and archival Chandra data, we search for signatures of heavily obscured or low luminosity active galactic nuclei (AGNs). We find that both NGC 3256 and NGC 3310 have X-ray detected sources coincident with nuclear regions; however, the steep NuSTAR spectra of both galaxies restricts these sources to be either low luminosity AGNs (L2-10 keV/LEdd ≲ 10-5) or non-AGNs in nature (e.g., ULXs or crowded X-ray sources that reach L2-10 keV ∼ 1040 erg s-1 cannot be ruled out). Combining our constraints on the 0.3-30 keV spectra of NGC 3256 and NGC 3310 with equivalent measurements for nearby star-forming galaxies M83 and NGC 253, we analyze the star formation rate (SFR) normalized spectra of these starburst galaxies. The spectra of all four galaxies show sharply declining power-law slopes at energies above 3-6 keV primarily due to ULX populations. Our observations therefore constrain the average spectral shape of galaxy-wide populations of luminous accreting binaries (i.e., ULXs). Interestingly, despite a completely different galaxy sample selection, emphasizing here a range of SFRs and stellar masses, these properties are similar to those of super-Eddington accreting ULXs that have been studied individually in a targeted NuSTAR ULX program. We also find that NGC 3310 exhibits a factor of ≈3-10 elevation of X-ray emission over the other star-forming galaxies due to a corresponding overabundance of ULXs. We argue that the excess of ULXs in NGC 3310 is most likely explained by the relatively low metallicity of the young stellar population in this galaxy, a property that is expected to produce an excess of luminous X-ray binaries for a given SFR.

Original languageEnglish
Article number126
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 10 2015


  • X-rays: galaxies
  • galaxies: active
  • galaxies: individual (NGC 3256 and NGC 3310)
  • galaxies: star formation
  • galaxies: starburst


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