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The post-common-envelope X-ray binary nucleus of the planetary nebula NGC 2392

  • Brent Miszalski (a1) (a2), Rajeev Manick (a3), Hans Van Winckel (a3) and Ana Escorza (a3) (a4)


The Chandra X-ray Observatory has detected relatively hard X-ray emission from the central stars of several planetary nebulae (PNe). A subset has no known late-type companions, making it very difficult to isolate which of several competing mechanisms may be producing the X-ray emission. The central star of NGC 2392 is one of the most vexing members, with substantial indirect evidence for a hot white dwarf (WD) companion. Here we report on the results of a radial velocity (RV) monitoring campaign of its central star with the HERMES échelle spectrograph of the Flemish 1.2 m Mercator telescope. We discover a single-lined spectroscopic binary with an orbital period of 1.902208 ± 0.000013 d and an RV semi-amplitude of 9.96 ± 0.13 km s−1. The high degree of nebula ionisation requires a WD companion (M ≳ 0.6M), which the mass-function supports at orbital inclinations ≲ 7°, in agreement with the nebula orientation of 9°. The hard component of the X-ray spectrum may be explained by the companion accreting mass from the wind of the Roche lobe filling primary, while the softer component may be due to colliding winds. A companion with a stronger wind than the primary could produce the latter and would be consistent with models of the observed diffuse X-ray emission detected in the nebula. The diffuse X-rays may also be powered by the jets of up to 180 km s−1, and active accretion would imply that they may be the first active jets of a post-common-envelope PN, potentially making NGC 2392 an invaluable laboratory to study jet formation physics. The 1.9 d orbital period rules out a double-degenerate merger leading to a Type Ia supernova, and the weak wind of the primary likely also precludes a single-degenerate scenario. We suggest that a hard X-ray spectrum, in the absence of a late-type companion, could be a powerful tool to identify accreting WD companions.


Corresponding author

Author for correspondence: B. Miszalski, E-mail:


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Based on the observations made with the Mercator Telescope, operated on the island of La Palma by the Flemish Community, at the Spanish Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos of the Instituto de Astrofísica Canarias.



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