Effective area calibration of the reflection grating spectrometers of XMM-Newton II. X-ray spectroscopy of da white dwarfs

J. S. Kaastra, T. Larz, I. Hubeny, F. B.S. Paerels

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5 Scopus citations


Context. White dwarf spectra have been widely used as a calibration source for X-ray and EUV instruments. The in-flight effective area calibration of the reflection grating spectrometers (RGS) of XMM-Newton depend upon the availability of reliable calibration sources. Aims. We investigate how well these white dwarf spectra can be used as standard candles at the lowest X-ray energies in order to gauge the absolute effective area scale of X-ray instruments. Methods. We calculate a grid of model atmospheres for Sirius B and HZ 43Δ, and adjust the parameters using several constraints until the ratio of the spectra of both stars agrees with the ratio as observed by the low energy transmission grating spectrometer (LETGS) of Chandra. This ratio is independent of any errors in the effective area of the LETGS. Results. We find that we can constrain the absolute X-ray spectrum of both stars with better than 5% accuracy. The best-fit model for both stars is close to a pure hydrogen atmosphere, and we put tight limits to the amount of helium or the thickness of a hydrogen layer in both stars. Our upper limit to the helium abundance in Sirius B is 4 times below the previous detection based on EUVE data. We also find that our results are sensitive to the adopted cut-off in the Lyman pseudo-continuum opacity in Sirius B. We get best agreement with a long wavelength cut-off. Conclusions. White dwarf model atmospheres can be used to derive the effective area of X-ray spectrometers in the lowest energy band. An accuracy of 3-4% in the absolute effective area can be achieved.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)311-323
Number of pages13
JournalAstronomy and astrophysics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 1 2009



  • Instrumentation: spectrographs
  • Stars: atmospheres
  • Techniques: spectroscopic
  • X-rays: general
  • X-rays: stars

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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