High-mass X-ray Binaries (HMXBs) are keys to study stellar remnants that are otherwise extremely faint and difficult to observe when isolated. Vela X-1 is a well-known eclipsing HMXB composed of a very massive neutron star orbiting a B0.5I supergiant with a period of 9 days. The supergiant wind is the main feeding material for the accreting neutron star, and its properties are of prime interest to understand the physics at stakes in the accretion process.
In order to characterize the geometry and physical properties of the dense wind at a scale of a few stellar radii, we obtained infrared interferometric observations of Vela X-1 in 2010 using the VLTI/AMBER instrument in the K band (2.2 μm), and in 2012 using the VLTI/PIONIER instrument in the H band (1.6 μm).
Although the apparent disk of the supergiant and the orbital separation of the two objects are beyond the present resolution limit of the VLTI, the K-band observations partially resolve the wind envelope on the two longest baselines. We were able to measure the radius of 265±82 R⊙ for the circumstellar wind at a temperature of 1300 K, assuming a distance of 1.9 kpc. The H-band observations do not resolve the system, and we were able to set an upper limit of 112 R⊙ for the envelope radius at a temperature of 1800 K.