Infrared observations of PSR  J1811-1736

Infrared observations of the candidate double neutron star system PSR  J18111736

R. P. Mignani, A. Corongiu, C. Pallanca, F. R. Ferraro

Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London, Holmbury St. Mary, Dorking, Surrey, RH5 6NT, UK
Kepler Institute of Astronomy, University of Zielona Góra, Lubuska 2, 65-265, Zielona Góra, Poland
INAF Osservatorio Astronomico di Cagliari, località Poggio dei Pini, Strada 54, I–09012 Capoterra, Italy
Dipartimento di Fisica e Astronomia, Università degli Studi di Bologna, via Ranzani 1, I–40127 Bologna, Italy
E-mail:rm2@mssl.ucl.ac.uk
Accepted 1988 December 15. Received 1988 December 14; in original form 1988 October 11
Abstract

PSR J18111736 ( = 104 ms) is an old ( Gyrs) binary pulsar (=18.8 d) in a highly eccentric orbit () with an unidentified companion. Interestingly enough, the pulsar timing solution yields an estimated companion mass , compatible with that of a neutron star. As such, it is possible that PSR  J18111736 is a double neutron star (DNS) system, one of the very few discovered so far. This scenario can be investigated through deep optical/infrared (IR) observations. We used -band images, obtained as part of the UK Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) Infrared Deep Sky Survey (UKIDSS), and available in the recent Data Release 9 Plus, to search for its undetected companion of the PSR J18111736 binary pulsar. We detected a possible companion star to PSR  J18111736 within the radio position uncertainty (132), with magnitudes J=, H=, and K. The star colours are consistent with either a main sequence (MS) star close to the turn-off or a lower red giant branch (RGB) star, at a pulsar distance of kpc and with a reddening of . The star mass and radius would be compatible with the constraints on the masses and orbital inclination of the binary system inferred from the mass function and the lack of radio eclipses near superior conjunction. Thus, it is possible that it is the companion to PSR  J18111736. However, based on the star density in the field, we estimated a quite large chance coincidence probability of between the pulsar and the star, which makes the association unlikely. No other star is detected within the pulsar radio position down to J, H and K, which would allow us to rule out a MS companion star earlier than a mid-to-late M spectral type.

keywords:
Optical: stars – neutron stars
pagerange: Infrared observations of the candidate double neutron star system PSR  J18111736LABEL:lastpagepubyear: 2002

1 Introduction

The radio pulsar PSR J18111736 ( ms) was detected at 1374 MHz (Lyne et al. 2000) during the Parkes Multibeam Pulsar survey (Manchester et al. 2001). It is in a binary system, with an orbital period =18.8 d and a high eccentricity =0.828 (Corongiu et al. 2007). The updated timing parameters, including general relativistic effects, give a period derivative  s s which yields a spin-down age  yr and a surface magnetic field  G. The and suggest that PSR J18111736 is a mildly-recycled pulsar, i.e. the spin-up phase via matter accretion from the companion star was too short for the pulsar to reach a spin period of a few ms, typical of fully-recycled pulsars. A possible scenario is that the companion was an high-mass star which underwent a supernova explosion, itself turning into a neutron star (Bhattacharya & van den Heuvel 1991). Thus, PSR J18111736 might be one of the 10 double neutron star (DNS) systems out of the 2000 radio pulsars known to date (Manchester et al. 2005). The DNS picture is reinforced by the limits on the companion mass, derived from the mass of the system inferred from the measurement of the periastron advance  yr and from the mass function. For a pulsar mass , larger than the minimum value inferred for a radio pulsar (PSR  J1518+4904; Janssen et al. 2008), this yields a companion mass of (Corongiu et al. 2007), compatible with that of a neutron star.

A conclusive piece of evidence that PSR J18111736 is a DNS would be the detection of its companion as a radio pulsar, like in the double pulsar PSR  J07373039A/B (Lyne et al. 2004). However, it escaped detection so far, perhaps because of an unfavourable beaming or because it is no longer in its active radio phase. Alternatively, a conclusive piece of evidence would be the non-detection of the companion in deep optical/infrared (IR) observations. The pulsar companion is not detected in the Digitised Sky Survey (DSS) down to (Mignani 2000) and in the 2 Micron All Sky Survey (2MASS) down to K, computed at the Lyne et al. (2000) and Corongiu et al. (2007) radio positions, respectively, with the latter limit being quite uncertain owing to the much higher crowding in the pulsar field at IR wavelengths. Such limits would only rule out a giant companion but, for the allowed mass range they would still be compatible with a mid to late–type main sequence (MS) star, a white dwarf, or a neutron star. No deep optical/near-IR observations of PSR  J18111736 have ever been performed so far. As suggested in Mignani (2000), given the substantial interstellar extinction towards the pulsar near-IR observations are more suited than the optical ones to set constraints on the companion star.

Here, we present the results of a new investigation of the PSR  J18111736 field using IR survey data much deeper than 2MASS. The observations and results are discussed in Sectn. 2, while the implications for the PSR  J18111736 companion are discussed in Sectn. 3.

2 Infrared observations and results

Figure 1: (top) K-band image of the PSR  J18111736 field obtained from 2MASS. The square corresponds to the sky area shown in the bottom panel. (bottom) K-band image zoom of the same field obtained from UKIDSS. North to the top, East to the left. The radio positions of PSR  J18111736 computed with and without fitting its proper motion in the timing model (see Sectn. 2.2) are marked by the two sets of circles, drawn with thick and thin lines, respectively. In both cases, the inner circles correspond to the (044; 019) uncertainty radii, while the outer circles correspond to the (; ) ones. The star within the proper motion-corrected radio error circle (unresolved in the 2MASS image) has magnitudes J=, H=, and K.
Figure 2: (left) colour-magnitude diagrams of the PSR  J18111736 field obtained from the UKIDSS photometry of stars detected in a region around the PSR  J18111736 position. The star detected closest to the pulsar position (see Fig. 1) is marked in red. Average photometric errors in the pulsar field, for different magnitude and colour bins, have are also plotted in the left and right panels respectively. () vs. () colour-colour diagram of the same region. The reddening vectors for an are shown, as a reference.

2.1 Observation description

No near-IR observations of the PSR J18111736 are available in either the ESO111http://archive.eso.org or the Gemini222www.gemini.edu Science Data Archives. Thus, we searched for near-IR data of the PSR  J18111736 field in the image archive of the UK Infrared Deep Sky Survey (UKIDSS) performed with the Wide Field Camera (WFCAM) at the UK Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) at the Mauna Kea Observatory (Hawaii). WFCAM (Casali et al. 2007) is a mosaic detector of four 20482048 pixel Rockwell devices, with a pixel scale of 04 and covering a field–of–view of 0.21 square degrees. A general description of the UKIDSS survey is given in Lawrence et al. (2007). The UKIDSS survey covers several regions, with a different sky coverage, and sensitivity limits in the UKIRT photometric system (Hewett et al. 2006). The field of PSR  J18111736 is included in the Galactic Plane Survey (GPS; Lucas et al. 2008) which covers about 1800 square degrees in down to sensitivity limits which are more than a factor of ten deeper than 2MASS. Like all the UKIDSS data, the GPS images are processed through a dedicated pipeline (Hambly et al. 2008) developed and operated at Cambridge Astronomical Survey Unit (CASU) which performs basic reduction steps (dark subtraction, flat fielding), image de-jittering, stacking, and mosaicing. The pipeline also runs a source detection algorithm and produces source catalogues. Astrometry and photometry calibration are performed using 2MASS stars as a reference (Hodgkin et al. 2009). We searched for the reduced science images of the PSR  J18111736 field and associated object catalogues through the WFCAM Science Archive (WSA)333http://surveys.roe.ac.uk/wsa/ interface accessible via the Royal Observatory Edinburgh. We queried the most recent UKIDSS Data Release (version 9 Plus) made available on October 25th 2011. The field was observed on July 18 2006. We downloaded , , -band stacks around the pulsar position and the associated multi-band object catalogues.

Figure 3: Same as Fig. 2 but with UKIDSS data for the Baade’s Window (light grey) overlaid for comparison.

2.2 Pulsar astrometry

For the search for the companion star to PSR J18111736, we assumed as a reference its radio timing coordinates. We note that the pulsar radio timing solution presented by Corongiu et al. (2007) is based on data taken in the epoch range MJD=50842–53624 and does not include the determination of the pulsar’s proper motion, an essential parameter for recomputing its position at a given epoch. For this reason, we re-analysed the data presented in Corongiu et al. (2007) adding the proper motion to the timing model, to obtain a new radio timing position at a reference epoch (MJD=53624) closest to that of the UKIDSS observation (MJD= 53934). Thus, we obtained and for the position and mas yr and mas yr for the proper motion, where all quoted uncertainties are at level. The extrapolated timing position at the epoch of the UKIDSS observation (MJD= 53934) is, then: and , with an uncertainty radius of 044 (1) that accounts for the position uncertainty due to the proper motion extrapolation. For comparison, by applying the same timing model as above but without adding the proper motion, we obtain and , where the choice of the reference epoch (MJD=53624) within the range spanned by the timing data is, in this case, arbitrary. Although this position has a nominal uncertainty radius (019; 1) that is smaller than obtained in the previous case, assuming it as a reference at the epoch of the UKIDSS observations would introduce an unknown systematic uncertainty due to the neglected pulsar proper motion. For this reason, it is formally less correct than the radio position obtained by fitting the proper motion, despite the latter having a larger uncertainty radius. Nonetheless, in the following section we conservatively consider both positions in our search for the PSR  J18111736 counterpart. In computing the overall uncertainty on the PSR  J18111736 position in the UKIDSS images we also accounted for systematics associated with the nominal accuracy on the UKIDSS astrometry calibration (005 rms at low Galactic latitudes; Lawrence et al. 2007), the internal astrometric accuracy of 2MASS (02 for stars with ), and the accuracy on the link of 2MASS to the International Celestial Reference System (0015; Skrutskie et al. 2006).

2.3 Results

The UKIDSS -band image of the PSR  J18111736 field is shown in Fig. 1 (bottom) compared to the corresponding 2MASS image (top). For comparison, we plotted the two pulsar positions derived from the radio timing solution, with and without fitting the proper motion. As seen, no object is detected within the two radio position error circles (044 and 019 radii, respectively). However, a star (), unresolved in the 2MASS image but clearly detected in the much higher resolution UKIDSS one, is detected within the proper motion-corrected radio error circle (132 radius). Thus, its association with the pulsar cannot be ruled out a priori and needs to be investigated. The star is also detected in the and bands, with magnitudes of and . No other star is detected at, or close to, the computed radio pulsar positions down to limiting magnitudes of J, H and K, as computed from the rms of the sky background (Newberry 1991). Given the high star density along the Galactic plane, however, the match can be the result of a chance coincidence. We computed this probability as , where () is the matching radius, assumed equal to the uncertainty on the proper motion-corrected pulsar radio position, and is the density of stellar objects within an area of around the pulsar. We found that arcsec, which gives . Such a high chance coincidence probability suggests that the star is likely unrelated to the pulsar, although we need a direct piece of evidence to firmly rule out the association.

3 Discussion

3.1 The interstellar extinction in the pulsar direction

We investigated whether the characteristics of the star detected close to the PSR  J18111736 position are compatible with it being its companion star. To this end, we tried to determine its spectral type from its colours. Fig. 2 shows the colour-magnitude diagram (CMD) and the colour-colour diagram vs. built from the photometry of field stars detected within a area around the pulsar position, as derived from the UKIDSS object catalogue. We also plotted the location of the star detected close to the PSR  J18111736 position (Fig. 1, bottom), whose location in both diagrams is consistent with the sequence of field stars. Thus, determining its spectral type from the comparison of its colours and flux with those of field stars is not obvious. Moreover, the determination of the star’s intrinsic colours is affected by the substantial interstellar extinction towards the pulsar, which is located in the Galactic plane (). In particular, the CMD is very broadened, suggesting that the field is affected by a quite high, and probably differential, extinction.

The interstellar extinction towards PSR  J18111736 is uncertain, and this affects our estimate of the upper limits on the companion star luminosity. A first estimate of the interstellar extinction can be derived from the integrated Hydrogen column density along the line of sight to the pulsar. This is , as computed using the heasarc tool webpimms444http://heasarc.nasa.gov/cgi-bin/Tools/w3nh/w3nh.pl according to the Dickey & Lockman (1990) and Kalberla et al. (2005) Hydrogen maps. This gives –2.9, according to the relation of Predhel & Schmitt (1995). However, PSR  J18111736 is closer than the edge of the Galaxy, at a distance  kpc, estimated from the radio pulse dispersion measure (DM= pc cm; Corongiu et al. 2007) and the Galactic free electron density along the line of sight (Cordes & Lazio 2002). This would suggest a lower interstellar extinction. According to the Galactic extinction maps of Hakkila et al. (1997), the pulsar distance and Galactic coordinates would imply an interstellar extinction . However, these estimates are only indicative mainly because of the uncertainties on the extinction maps on smaller angular scales. Unfortunately, the PSR  J18111736 field has not been observed in X-rays, so that no independent measurement of the interstellar extinction can be inferred from the hydrogen column density directly derived from the fits to the X-ray spectra. In principle, an independent measurement of the can be obtained from the DM itself assuming an average ionisation fraction of the interstellar medium (ISM) along the line of sight. In the case of PSR  J18111736, a DM= pc cm would correspond to cm, for a 10% ionisation fraction. This would imply an . However, this method is usually applied to pulsars closer than pc (e.g., Pavlov et al. 2009; Tiengo et al. 2011) and is intrinsically affected by a much larger uncertainty for pulsars at larger distances, such as PSR  J18111736.

We tried to derive an independent estimate on the reddening along the line of sight by comparing the CMDs and colour-colour diagrams of field stars with those in a reference region of very low reddening, such as the Baade’s Window. As we did for the PSR  J18111736 field, we extracted from the UKIDSS data the object catalogues relative to a area centred around the Baade’s Window, for which we assumed the coordinates of the globular cluster NGC  6522: and (Di Criscienzo et al. 2006). Fig. 3, shows the same diagrams as in Fig. 2 but with the UKIDSS data for the BaadeÕs Window region overlaid. From the comparison of the two sets of diagrams, we derived an estimate of the interstellar extinction towards the pulsar. Firstly, we computed the average of the distribution in the colour-colour space for the Baade’s Window region, applying a clipping. Secondly, we did the same for the pulsar field but selecting a region of 50″ radius around the pulsar position not to be affected by the differential extinction in the field. Then, from the difference between the two values we estimated an for the pulsar field. This value is a factor of 2 larger than the Galactic interstellar extinction inferred from the Hydrogen column density maps in the pulsar’s direction. However, we note that the value reported above is a weighted average relative to a 1 radius area around the pulsar coordinates, which does not rule out the presence of patches of higher Hydrogen column density on angular scales smaller than 0.4, which are not resolved by the available maps.

Indeed, it has been found that the interstellar extinction towards the Galactic bulge region is not uniform and shows strong variations, or granularities, on angular scales as small as 1′ (see, e.g. Gosling et al. 2006). We used the UKIDSS J, H, and K-band images of the PSR  J18111736 field to measure the granularity of the interstellar extinction in the region, following the method described in Gosling et al. (2006). We considered a region of centred on the PSR  J18111736 position. We divided the region in cells with dimension variable between 8″ and 500″ to sample the granularity in the field on different angular scales. For each cell dimension, we calculated the parameter (see Eqn. 1 in Gosling et al. 2006), which gives a quantitative estimate of the granularity of the field and is defined as the variance of the number of stars in all cell normalised to the mean number of stars per cell. We computed the parameter for the J, H, and K-band images. For the region considered in our analysis, we found that the parameter, hence the granularity, decreases as a function of wavelength (see Fig. 4), as in the case of one of the test fields used by Gosling et al. (2006). Thus, the high level of granularity in the pulsar field seems to be correlated with a high and variable reddening, explaining the large scatter in the CMD and colour-colour diagram of the field stars (Fig. 2). We note that the measured angular scale of the granularity in the PSR  J18111736 field (see Fig. 4) is comparable to the 50″ radius region that we used to estimate the extinction in the pulsar’s direction from the CMD and colour-colour diagram analysis (see previous paragraph). Thus, we are confident that our procedure does not under/overestimate the assumed extinction value along the line of sight to the pulsar.

Figure 4: Measure of the granularity on the PSR  J18111736 field ( parameter) computed using the method described in Gosling et al. (2006) as a function of the angular distance from the pulsar. The three curves correspond to the granularity measured in the J, H, and K-band images (see legenda).

3.2 The candidate companion star

Under the hypothesis that the star seen close to the PSR  J18111736 position is its companion, we tried to determine its spectral type assuming the range of reddening values computed above. We considered a range of distances within the computed uncertainty range on the PSR  J18111736 distance based on the DM (=4.9–6.54 kpc), and an age range of 1–13.2 Gyr, consistent with the ages of the stellar populations in the Galactic centre region (e.g. Zoccali et al. 2003), where the pulsar is located. We also considered different values of the metallicity . For older populations, we considered both and , while for the younger populations we considered only . Then, for different values of metallicity, age, and distance we determined the best values in the range –7.6 that minimise the sum of the projected distances of the star location in the and CMDs from the isochrones computed from the stellar models of (Marigo et al. 2008; Girardi et al. 2010). From the best combinations of metallicity, age, distance, and reddening, we then derived the corresponding mass () and radius () of the candidate companion star to PSR  J18111736, from the comparison with the isochrones. Finally, we combined the computed mass of the candidate companion star with the mass function of the pulsar system (Corongiu et al. 2007) and its total mass (). In this way, we derived the pulsar mass () and the orbital inclination angle of the system for each combination of metallicity, age, distance, reddening, and mass of the candidate companion star. We filtered out combinations for which it resulted . We also selected the acceptable combinations for the conditions that the companion mass and the pulsar mass , as it results from the PSR  J18111736 timing analysis (Corongiu et al. 2007), where the lower limit on corresponds to the minimum measured value for the mass of a neutron star (Janssen et al. 2008). The different parameter combinations are summarised in the first eight columns of Table 1 and 2. These parameters are consistent, for a reddening –5, with a companion star still on the main sequence (MS) and close to the turn-off or on the lower Red Giant Branch (RGB), with an inferred mass –1.3 and radius –5.8 .

Log(age) D Flag
(yrs) (kpc) () () () ()
0.020 10.12 6.54 4.70 0.97 5.78 1.60 76.11 0.65722 0.37243 NO
0.020 10.12 5.70 4.72 0.97 5.02 1.60 76.17 0.75582 0.42761 NO
0.020 10.12 4.99 4.76 0.97 4.41 1.60 76.28 0.85852 0.48427 NO
0.020 10.10 6.54 4.70 0.99 5.77 1.58 73.56 0.69322 0.41833 NO
0.020 10.10 5.70 4.73 0.99 5.03 1.58 73.63 0.79406 0.47843 NO
0.020 10.10 4.99 4.76 0.99 4.41 1.58 73.72 0.90401 0.54356 NO
0.020 10.08 6.54 4.70 1.00 5.77 1.57 71.36 0.72583 0.45845 NO
0.020 10.08 5.70 4.73 1.00 5.03 1.57 71.42 0.83156 0.52463 NO
0.020 10.08 4.99 4.77 1.00 4.41 1.57 71.53 0.94628 0.59574 NO
0.020 10.06 6.54 4.70 1.01 5.76 1.56 69.47 0.75664 0.49420 NO
0.020 10.06 5.70 4.74 1.01 5.04 1.56 69.47 0.86473 0.56480 NO
0.020 10.06 4.99 4.77 1.01 4.40 1.56 69.62 0.98739 0.64330 NO
0.020 10.04 6.54 4.71 1.02 5.78 1.55 67.74 0.78193 0.52452 NO
0.020 10.04 5.70 4.74 1.02 5.03 1.55 67.74 0.89852 0.60273 NO
0.020 10.04 4.99 4.78 1.02 4.41 1.55 67.88 1.02185 0.68407 NO
0.020 10.02 6.54 4.71 1.03 5.76 1.54 66.11 0.81169 0.55665 NO
0.020 10.02 5.70 4.75 1.03 5.03 1.54 66.30 0.92585 0.63339 NO
0.020 10.02 4.99 4.78 1.03 4.41 1.54 66.30 1.05601 0.72244 NO
0.020 10.00 6.54 4.72 1.05 5.78 1.52 64.72 0.83226 0.58041 NO
0.020 10.00 5.70 4.75 1.05 5.03 1.52 64.72 0.95635 0.66695 NO
0.020 10.00 4.99 4.79 1.05 4.42 1.52 64.72 1.08834 0.75900 NO
0.008 10.00 6.54 4.83 0.97 5.77 1.60 76.04 0.65927 0.37429 NO
0.008 10.00 5.70 4.85 0.97 5.02 1.60 76.14 0.75627 0.42821 NO
0.008 10.00 4.99 4.88 0.97 4.40 1.60 76.28 0.86047 0.48537 NO
Table 1: Best parameter combinations for the candidate companion star of PSR  J18111736 obtained from the comparison between its location in the CMDs and model isochrones. Columns list the star metallicity , age (in logarithmic units), distance (), reddening, its mass () and radius (), the mass of the pulsar () in solar units, and the system inclination angle (), obtained from the estimated companion mass, the system mass function, and the total mass. The next two columns list the projected distance () of the pulsar to the centre of the companion on the plane perpendicular to the line of sight, normalised to the companion radius for the two values of the orbital phase when the pulsar is observed closest to the superior conjunction . The last column flags the acceptable configurations under the condition that at both orbital phases (see text).
Log(age) D Flag
(yrs) (kpc) () () () ()
0.020 9.98 6.54 4.72 1.06 5.77 1.51 63.27 0.85842 0.60814 NO
0.020 9.98 5.70 4.76 1.06 5.04 1.51 63.27 0.98276 0.69623 NO
0.020 9.98 4.99 4.78 1.06 4.40 1.51 63.38 1.12323 0.79484 NO
0.008 9.98 6.54 4.83 0.99 5.76 1.58 73.50 0.69529 0.42014 NO
0.008 9.98 5.70 4.86 0.99 5.03 1.58 73.59 0.79471 0.47925 NO
0.008 9.98 4.99 4.88 0.99 4.40 1.58 73.72 0.90607 0.54480 NO
0.020 9.96 6.54 4.73 1.07 5.78 1.50 61.93 0.87993 0.63160 NO
0.020 9.96 5.70 4.76 1.07 5.03 1.50 61.93 1.01114 0.72577 NO
0.020 9.96 4.99 4.79 1.07 4.41 1.50 62.08 1.14991 0.82422 NO
0.008 9.96 6.54 4.83 1.00 5.76 1.57 71.30 0.72801 0.46035 NO
0.008 9.96 5.70 4.86 1.00 5.02 1.57 71.44 0.83287 0.52525 NO
0.008 9.96 4.99 4.88 1.00 4.39 1.57 71.56 0.94999 0.59773 NO
0.020 9.94 6.54 4.73 1.08 5.77 1.49 60.71 0.90254 0.65489 NO
0.020 9.94 5.70 4.77 1.08 5.04 1.49 60.71 1.03326 0.74975 NO
0.020 9.94 4.99 4.80 1.08 4.42 1.49 60.85 1.17504 0.85160 NO
0.008 9.94 6.54 4.84 1.01 5.76 1.56 69.47 0.75664 0.49420 NO
0.008 9.94 5.70 4.87 1.01 5.01 1.56 69.62 0.86716 0.56498 NO
0.008 9.94 4.99 4.89 1.01 4.41 1.56 69.62 0.98515 0.64185 NO
0.020 9.92 6.54 4.74 1.10 5.77 1.47 59.57 0.92229 0.67548 NO
0.020 9.92 5.70 4.77 1.10 5.03 1.47 59.57 1.05797 0.77486 NO
0.020 9.92 4.99 4.80 1.10 4.41 1.47 59.66 1.20467 0.88167 NO
0.008 9.92 6.54 4.84 1.02 5.77 1.55 67.74 0.78329 0.52543 NO
0.008 9.92 5.70 4.87 1.02 5.03 1.55 67.88 0.89589 0.59975 NO
0.008 9.92 4.99 4.89 1.02 4.40 1.55 68.02 1.02117 0.68222 NO
0.020 9.90 6.54 4.74 1.11 5.77 1.46 58.40 0.94257 0.69644 NO
0.020 9.90 5.70 4.79 1.11 5.06 1.46 58.49 1.07305 0.79233 NO
0.020 9.90 4.99 4.81 1.11 4.42 1.46 58.53 1.22751 0.90612 NO
0.008 9.90 6.54 4.85 1.03 5.77 1.54 66.17 0.80928 0.55457 NO
0.008 9.90 5.70 4.88 1.03 5.03 1.54 66.30 0.92585 0.63339 NO
0.008 9.90 4.99 4.89 1.03 4.39 1.54 66.42 1.05819 0.72280 NO
0.020 9.80 6.54 4.49 1.18 5.24 1.39 53.51 1.13065 0.86080 NO
0.020 9.80 5.70 4.84 1.18 5.12 1.39 53.54 1.15658 0.88040 NO
0.020 9.80 4.99 4.75 1.17 4.30 1.40 53.68 1.37393 1.04509 YES
0.020 9.70 6.54 4.73 1.25 5.67 1.32 48.96 1.12253 0.87220 NO
0.020 9.70 5.70 4.80 1.25 5.01 1.32 49.07 1.26832 0.98506 NO
0.020 9.70 4.99 4.88 1.25 4.48 1.32 49.17 1.41625 1.09952 YES
0.020 9.60 6.54 4.84 1.34 5.85 1.23 44.99 1.15094 0.90651 NO
0.020 9.60 5.70 4.84 1.34 5.05 1.23 45.09 1.33147 1.04838 YES
0.020 9.60 4.99 4.90 1.33 4.48 1.24 45.22 1.49824 1.17923 YES
Table 2: Same as Tab. 1 but for ages smaller than 10 Gyrs.

All the combination of parameters reported in Tab. 1 and 2 have been further checked against the lack of eclipses at superior conjunction (orbital phase = 0.25) in the radio timing observations. This check is grounded on the fact that the pulsar cannot be eclipsed at a given orbital phase if the corresponding pulse’s time of arrival (ToA) has been determined, since ToA determination strictly requires the detection of the pulse. Hence, we calculated the orbital phases for each ToA presented in Corongiu et al. (2007), and we obtained that the closest available ToAs before and after superior conjunction correspond to an orbital phase = 0.191366 and = 0.277151, respectively. A parameters’ combination is acceptable only if, at both orbital phases, the projected distance of the pulsar to the centre of the companion, computed on the plane perpendicular to the line of sight, is larger than the companion radius, i.e. . Columns 9 and 10 of Tab. 1 and 2 report the values of for the two values of the orbital phase computed above, with the possible combinations flagged YES and NO for the cases and , respectively. Our calculation shows that for only 4 out of the 63 possible combinations of selected parameters the required condition is satisfied at both orbital phases. These combinations imply a Gyr companion star, with mass and radius , at a distance of kpc and with a reddening . This corresponds to a pulsar mass and inclination angle for the system of . Thus, according to the constraints on the masses and orbital inclination of the binary system, it is theoretically possible that the star detected at the radio position is, indeed, the companion to the pulsar. In this case, PSR  J18111736 would not be a DNS.

Name Companion Ordinary (O)/
(s) (s s (yrs) (G) (d) () Recycled (R)
J05144002A 0.004991 1.17  6.75  7.73  18.7852 8.880  0.90–1.11 WD R
B0655+64 0.195671 6.85  4.52  1.17  1.0287 7.500  0.66–0.80 WD R
J07373039A 0.022699 1.76  2.04  6.40  0.1023 8.778  1.24890 NS R
J1022+1001 0.016453 4.33  6.01  8.55  7.8051 9.700  1.05000 WD R
J11416545 0.393899 4.31  1.45  1.32  0.1977 1.719  1.02000 WD O
J11575112 0.043589 1.43  4.83  2.53  3.5074 4.024  1.18–1.46 WD R
J13376423 0.009423 1.95  7.64  1.37  4.7853 2.004  0.78–0.95 WD R
J14356100 0.009348 2.45  6.05  4.84  1.3549 1.047  0.88–1.08 WD R
J14395501 0.028635 1.42  3.20  2.04  2.1179 4.985  1.11–1.38 WD R
J14545846 0.045249 8.17  8.78  6.15  12.4231 1.898  0.86–1.05 WD R
J1518+4904 0.040935 2.72  2.39  1.07  8.6340 2.495  0.82–0.99 NS R
J15283146 0.060822 2.49  3.87  3.94  3.1803 2.130  0.94–1.15 WD R
B1534+12 0.037904 2.42  2.48  9.70  0.4207 2.737  1.35000 NS R
J17503703A 0.111601 5.66  3.12  2.54  17.3343 7.124  0.58–0.69 WD R
J17562251 0.028462 1.02  4.43  5.44  0.3196 1.806  1.10–1.35 NS R
J18022124 0.012648 7.26  2.76  9.69  0.6989 2.474  0.78000 WD R
J18072459B 0.004186 8.23  8.06  5.94  9.9567 7.470  1.20640 WD R
J18111736 0.104182 9.01  1.83  9.80  18.7792 8.280  0.85–1.04 NS R
B182011 0.279829 1.38  3.22  6.29  357.7620 7.946  0.65–0.78 WD O
J1829+2456 0.041010 5.25  1.24  1.48  1.1760 1.391  1.26–1.57 NS R
J1903+0327 0.002150 1.88  1.81  2.04  95.1741 4.367  1.03000 MS R
J1906+0746 0.144072 2.03  1.13  1.73  0.1660 8.530  0.80–0.98 NS O
B1913+16 0.059030 8.63  1.08  2.28  0.3230 6.171  1.3886 NS R
B2127+11C 0.030529 4.99  9.70  1.25  0.3353 6.814  1.354 NS R
B2303+46 1.066371 5.69  2.97  7.88  12.3395 6.584  1.16–1.43 WD O

The values of the companion mass is taken from Weisberg et al. (2010) and Jacoby et al. (2006), respectively, and are not yet implemented in the ANTF pulsar data base

Table 3: Name, timing (, , , ) and orbital parameters (, ) for binary pulsars with identified companions and masses in the same range as the PSR  J18111736 companion. The sample has been selected from the ATNF pulsar data base (Manchester et al. 2005). Pulsar names are sorted in right ascension. The values of the companion masses are either directly measured or calculated from other parameters (e.g. post-keplerian parameters). The two extremes of the mass range for are computed assuming an inclination angle and , respectively, and a neutron star mass of 1.35 . is the median orbital inclination, for which there is an equal probability of having an inclination smaller or larger than , i.e. . The last two columns indicate the companion type (WD, NS, MS) and whether the pulsar system is ordinary or recycled.

A Gyr MS companion would be compatible with the pulsar spin-down age ( Gyr) but not much so with the recycling scenario and the pulsar orbital parameters. In principle, the high orbital eccentricity of PSR  J18111736 () can be seen as the signature of a supernova explosion that changed all binary system parameters. Since PSR  J18111736 is a recycled pulsar, the orbit must have been circularised during the recycling process (Battacharya & van den Heuvel 1991) and its orbital eccentricity could have been produced by a second supernova explosion, i.e. that of the companion star. In this case, both the spin period and the orbital eccentricity values of PSR  J18111736 would be the highest among DNSs and consistent with the correlation between these two parameters observed in such systems (Faulkner et al. 2005) and recovered under the hypothesis of a low-amplitude neutron star kick (km s) at birth (Dewi et al. 2005).

Figure 5: Orbital eccentricity vs. spin (top panel) and orbital period (lower panel) for the binary pulsars in Table 3. Different symbols and colours correspond to different pulsar systems: DNSs (green diamonds); pulsar–WD (blue triangles); pulsar–MS (magenta filled circle). Squares highlight non–recycled pulsar systems. The location of PSR  J18111736 is marked by the circled red diamond. The inset shows a zoom of the plots around the location of PSR  J18111736. Pulsar-systems falling closest to PSR  J18111736 in the and planes are labeled and colour-coded.

We investigated whether the MS companion scenario would be indeed compatible with the pulsar spin and orbital parameters. We compared in Fig. 5 the eccentricity, spin period, and orbital period of PSR  J18111736 to those of binary pulsars with identified companions, whose masses are in the same range as the PSR  J18111736 companion. We selected our sample from the Australia Telescope National Facility (ATNF) pulsar data base555http://www.atnf.csiro.au/people/pulsar/psrcat/ (Manchester et al. 2005). Our sample is summarised in Table 3. In our analysis, we focused on the comparison with recycled binary pulsars only, whose evolutionary path can be compared to that of PSR  J18111736. As seen, the only known pulsar–MS star system in the selected companion mass range is PSR  J1903+0327 (Khargharia et al. 2012). However, this is a fully–recycled ms-pulsar ( ms), whereas PSR  J18111736 is a mildly-recycled pulsars with a much longer spin period ( ms) and a much shorter orbital period ( d) than PSR  J1903+0327 ( d). Moreover, the eccentricity of PSR  J18111736 () is much larger than PSR  J1903+0327 (). Thus, there are no known pulsar–MS star systems in the selected companion mass range with spin and orbital parameters comparable to those of PSR  J18111736. This might suggest that such systems, if they do exists, are quite rare, although the very small sample currently available prevents us to draw firm conclusions. There is one pulsar system, PSR  J05144002A in the globular cluster NGC 1851 (Freire et al. 2004), with a possible white dwarf (WD) companion (Freire et al. 2007), that has both orbital period and eccentricity comparable to PSR  J18111736 (Fig. 5, lower panel). However, like PSR  J1903+0327, also PSR  J05144002A is a fully–recycled pulsar, with a spin period ms. Moreover, since PSR  J05144002A is in a globular cluster, its original companion might have been exchanged through a close encounter with another star in the cluster. Thus, the evolutionary history of this system might not be directly comparable to PSR  J18111736. A firm classification of the PSR  J05144002A companion would help to evaluate the pulsar–MS star scenario for PSR  J18111736.

3.3 Constraints on the nature of the companion star

If the companion star of PSR  J18111736 is undetected in the UKIDSS data, the derived upper limits on its flux can be used to constrain its nature. From the interstellar extinction coefficients of Fitzpatrick (1999), an would correspond to –6.6, –4.0 and –2.8. From our derived detection limits (J, H and K) these values imply extinction-corrected fluxes of , , and , where we conservatively assumed the largest values of the interstellar extinction. At the estimated pulsar distance ( kpc) these values correspond to absolute magnitudes , , and , allowing us to rule out a companion of spectral type earlier than a mid-to-late M-type MS star. Thus, our constraints on the companion star are far more compelling that those derived by Mignani (2000) on the basis of the DSS data alone. Moreover, those constraints should be now revised upward since the reddening towards the pulsar measured in this work is at least twice as large than assumed by Mignani (2000) from the Galactic extinction maps (Hakkila et al. 1997). As a matter of fact, these were the only resources available at the time to determine the reddening in the pulsar direction. 2MASS data of the pulsar field, which could be used to determine the reddening from the CMD technique, as we did with the UKIDSS data, were only released after the Mignani (2000) paper was published. Our new limits are also not deep enough to rule out a WD companion star. As done in the previous section, we investigated whether the PSR  J18111736 spin and orbital parameters would fit those of recycled pulsar–WD systems. As seen from Fig. 5, most recycled pulsar–WD systems have circular orbits and both orbital and spin periods shorter than PSR  J18111736. There is only one recycled pulsar–WD system, PSR  J17503703A in the globular cluster NGC  6397 (D’Amico et al. 2001), that has both spin ( s) and orbital parameters ( d; ) close to PSR  J18111736. Thus, it is possible that PSR  J18111736 is, indeed, a pulsar–WD system and not a DNS. However, since also PSR  J17503703A is in a globular cluster, the same caveats as discussed above for PSR  J05144002A apply in this case. The identification of other pulsar–WD systems with spin and orbital parameter close to PSR  J18111736, but located in the Galactic plane, would help to determine the nature of the PSR  J17503703A system. We note that the other pulsar–WD system PSR  B2303+46 (Dewey et al. 1985; Thorsett et al. 1993; van Kerkwijk & Kulkarni 1999) with orbital parameters ( d; ) similar to PSR  J18111736 (Fig. 5, lower panel) is not a recycled pulsar, which means that it is either on a different evolutionary path or evolutionary stage.

4 Summary and conclusions

Using UKIDSS near-IR images, we detected a star, with magnitudes , , and , within the radio position uncertainty of PSR  J18111736. In order to determine the star’s spectral type, we estimated the reddening along the line of sight from the comparison of the CMDs of the stellar field to those of the Baade’s Window, also built using UKIDSS data. The reddening turns out to be at least twice as large as expected from the Galactic extinction maps. At a pulsar distance of kpc, and for the estimated reddening of , the star detected near to the radio position could be either a MS star close to the turn-off or a lower RGB star. The inferred mass () and radius () of this star could be compatible with the pulsar mass function, the constraints on the pulsar and companion masses, and the lack of radio eclipses near superior conjunction. Thus, it is possible that this star is the pulsar companion, which would reject the DNS scenario for PSR  J18111736. if this is the case, this might be the first known example of a mildly–recycled pulsar–MS star system with companion mass in the range, high eccentricity (), and spin and orbital periods in the explored range. However, we note that the computed chance coincidence probability of the candidate companion with the proper motion-corrected radio position is , which suggests that it might, instead, be an unrelated field star. A conclusive piece of evidence to prove/disprove the association would come from IR spectroscopic observations of the candidate companion star along the orbital phase of the binary system and the comparison of its velocity curve with that predicted by the orbital parameters of PSR  J18111736. Were the star confirmed to be its companion, this would drive new theoretical studies on the birth and evolution of neutron stars in binary systems, the formation of mildly-recycled radio pulsars, and the amplitude of neutron star kicks imparted by supernova explosions. On the other hand, were the star proved to be an unrelated field star, the identification of PSR  J18111736 as a DNS would remain an open issue. Our near-IR detection limits with UKIDSS only rule out a companion of spectral type earlier than a mid-to-late M-type MS star. Deeper observations with 8m-class telescopes would enable us to push these limits down by about 4 magnitudes in each band. This would still not be enough to rule out any possible companion other than a neutron star, though, with a WD still compatible with the deepest achievable limits, unless the reddening is much lower than estimated in the current work. However, as shown in Sectn. 3.3, most recycled pulsar–WD systems in the Galactic plane do not fit the spin and orbital parameters of PSR  J18111736. The detection of PSR  J18111736 in X-rays, like the other DNS PSR  J1537+1155 (Durant et al. 2011), would be useful to independently constrain the reddening along the line of sight and put tighter constraints on the absolute luminosity of the companion. Finally, new radio observations of PSR  J18111736 would be important to derive an updated radio-timing position and precisely measure the pulsar proper motion, for which we could only obtain a measurement using the current radio observation data base. A more precise radio-timing position of PSR  J18111736 will, then, enable us to revisit its association with its candidate companion star.

Acknowledgments

We thank the anonymous members of the ESO Time Allocation Committee, whose suggestions triggered this work and the anonymous referee for his/her constructive comments to our manuscript.

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