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Physics  2009 

Ultraluminous X-ray Source Correlations with Star-Forming Regions

DOI: 10.1088/0004-637X/703/1/159

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Maps of low-inclination nearby galaxies in Sloan Digitized Sky Survey u-g, g-r and r-i colors are used to determine whether Ultraluminous X-ray sources (ULXs) are predominantly associated with star-forming regions of their host galaxies. An empirical selection criterion is derived from colors of HII regions in M81 and M101 that differentiates between the young, blue stellar component and the older disk and bulge population. This criterion is applied to a sample of 58 galaxies of Hubble type S0 and later and verified through an application of Fisher's linear discriminant analysis. It is found that 60% (49%) of ULXs in optically-bright environments are within regions blueward of their host galaxy's HII regions compared to only 27% (0%) of a control sample according to the empirical (Fisher) criterion. This is an excess of 3-sigma above the 32% (27%) expected if the ULXs were randomly distributed within their galactic hosts. This indicates a ULX preference for young, approximately <10 Myr, OB associations. However, none of the ULX environments have the morphology and optical brightness suggestive of a massive young super star cluster though several are in extended or crowded star-forming (blue) environments that may contain clusters unresolved by Sloan imaging. Ten of the 12 ULX candidates with estimated X-ray luminosities in excess of 3e39 erg/s are equally divided among the group of ULX environments redward of HII regions and the group of optically faint regions. This likely indicates that the brightest ULXs turn on at a time somewhat later than typical of HII regions; say 10-20 Myr after star formation has ended. This would be consistent with the onset of an accretion phase as the donor star ascends the giant branch if the donor is a <20 solar-mass star.


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