Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2012

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Astrophysical & Planetary Sciences

First Advisor

Cynthia S. Froning

Second Advisor

James C. Green

Third Advisor

John T. Stocke

Fourth Advisor

Thomas R. Ayres

Fifth Advisor

Scott E. Palo

Abstract

Low mass X-ray binaries (LMXBs) are a subset of compact binary systems in which a main-sequence or slightly evolved star fills its Roche lobe and donates mass to a neutron star or a black hole (BH) via an accretion disk. Robust estimates of compact object masses in these systems are required to enhance our current understanding of the physics of compact object formation, accretion disks and jets. Compact object masses are typically determined at near-infrared (NIR) wavelengths when the system is in quiescence and the donor star is the dominant source of flux. Previous studies have assumed that any non-stellar contribution at these wavelengths is minimal. However, this assumption is rarely true. By performing NIR spectroscopy, we determined the fractional donor star contribution to the NIR flux and the compact object masses in two LMXBs: V404 Cyg and Cen X-4. In our analysis, it was assumed that the light curve morphology remains consistent throughout quiescence. It has now been shown in several systems that veiling measurements from non-stellar sources are meaningful only if acquired contemporaneously with light curve measurements. We accounted for this in the measurement of the BH mass in the LMXB, XTE J1118+480. LMXBs are also considered to be the most likely candidates responsible for the formation of milli-second pulsars (MSP). Here, I present the unique case of PSR J1903+0327 that challenges this currently accepted theory of MSP formation and is a potential candidate for testing General Relativity. Observations in the NIR come with their own set of challenges. NIR detector arrays used in these observations generally have high dark current and readout noise. In an effort to lower the read noise in NICFPS at APO, we present a study done on the Hawaii--1RG engineering grade chip that served as a test bed for reducing the read noise in NICFPS.

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