X-ray lightcurves from realistic polar cap models: Inclined pulsar magnetospheres and multipole fields

Will Lockhart, Samuel E. Gralla, Feryal Özel, Dimitrios Psaltis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Thermal X-ray emission from rotation-powered pulsars is believed to originate from localized “hotspots” on the stellar surface occurring where large-scale currents from the magnetosphere return to heat the atmosphere. Lightcurve modeling has primarily been limited to simple models, such as circular antipodal emitting regions with constant temperature. We calculate more realistic temperature distributions within the polar caps, taking advantage of recent advances in magnetospheric theory, and we consider their effect on the predicted lightcurves. The emitting regions are non-circular even for a pure dipole magnetic field, and the inclusion of an aligned magnetic quadrupole moment introduces a north-south asymmetry. As the quadrupole moment is increased, one hotspot grows in size before becoming a thin ring surrounding the star. For the pure dipole case, moving to the more realistic model changes the lightcurves by 5 − 10% for millisecond pulsars, helping to quantify the systematic uncertainty present in current dipolar models. Including the quadrupole gives considerable freedom in generating more complex lightcurves. We explore whether these simple dipole+quadrupole models can account for the qualitative features of the lightcurve of PSR J0437−4715.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalUnknown Journal
StatePublished - Apr 25 2019


  • Magnetic fields
  • Pulsars: general
  • Pulsars: individual (PSR J0437−4715)
  • Stars: neutron
  • X-rays: stars

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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