The X-ray luminosity functions of field low-mass X-ray binaries in early-type galaxies: Evidence for a stellar age dependence

B. D. Lehmer, M. Berkeley, A. Zezas, D. M. Alexander, A. Basu-Zych, F. E. Bauer, W. N. Brandt, T. Fragos, A. E. Hornschemeier, V. Kalogera, A. Ptak, G. R. Sivakoff, P. Tzanavaris, M. Yukita

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


We present direct constraints on how the formation of low-mass X-ray binary (LMXB) populations in galactic fields depends on stellar age. In this pilot study, we utilize Chandra and Hubble Space Telescope (HST) data to detect and characterize the X-ray point source populations of three nearby early-type galaxies: NGC 3115, 3379, and 3384. The luminosity-weighted stellar ages of our sample span 3-10 Gyr. X-ray binary population synthesis models predict that the field LMXBs associated with younger stellar populations should be more numerous and luminous per unit stellar mass than older populations due to the evolution of LMXB donor star masses. Crucially, the combination of deep Chandra and HST observations allows us to test directly this prediction by identifying and removing counterparts to X-ray point sources that are unrelated to the field LMXB populations, including LMXBs that are formed dynamically in globular clusters, Galactic stars, and background active galactic nuclei/galaxies. We find that the "young" early-type galaxy NGC 3384 (2-5 Gyr) has an excess of luminous field LMXBs (L X ≳ (5-10) × 10 37 erg s-1) per unit K-band luminosity (LK ; a proxy for stellar mass) than the "old" early-type galaxies NGC 3115 and 3379 (8-10 Gyr), which results in a factor of 2-3 excess of L X/LK for NGC 3384. This result is consistent with the X-ray binary population synthesis model predictions; however, our small galaxy sample size does not allow us to draw definitive conclusions on the evolution field LMXBs in general. We discuss how future surveys of larger galaxy samples that combine deep Chandra and HST data could provide a powerful new benchmark for calibrating X-ray binary population synthesis models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number52
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1 2014


  • Galaxy: stellar content
  • X-rays: binaries
  • X-rays: galaxies
  • galaxies: elliptical and lenticular, cD
  • galaxies: evolution
  • globular clusters: general

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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