The very flat radio-millimetre spectrum of Cygnus X-1

R. P. Fender, G. G. Pooley, P. Durouchoux, R. P.J. Tilanus, C. Brocksopp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

94 Scopus citations


We present almost-simultaneous detections of Cygnus X-1 in the radio and mm regimes, obtained during the low/hard X-ray state. The source displays a flat spectrum between 2 and 220 GHz, with a spectral index |α| ≤ 0.15 (3σ). There is no evidence for either a low-or high-frequency cut-off, but in the mid-infrared (∼30 μm) thermal emission from the OB-type companion star becomes dominant. The integrated luminosity of this flat-spectrum emission in quiescence is ≥ 2 × 1031 erg s-1 (2 × 1024 W). Assuming the emission originates in a jet for which non-radiative (e.g. adiabatic expansion) losses dominate, this is a very conservative lower limit on the power required to maintain the jet. A comparison with Cyg X-3 and GRS 1915+105, the other X-ray binaries for which a flat spectrum at shorter than cm wavelengths has been observed, shows that the jet in Cyg X-1 is significantly less luminous and less variable, and is probably our best example to date of a continuous, steady, outflow from an X-ray binary. The emissive mechanism responsible for such a flat spectral component remains uncertain. Specifically, we note that the radio-mm spectra observed from these X-ray binaries are much flatter than those of the 'flat-spectrum' AGN, and that existing models of synchrotron emission from partially self-absorbed radio cores, which predict a high-frequency cut-off in the mm regime, are not directly applicable.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)853-858
Number of pages6
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number4
StatePublished - Mar 11 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • Binaries
  • Close - Stars
  • Cygnus X-1 - ISM
  • Individual
  • Jets and outflows - Radio continuum
  • Stars

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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