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Astrophysical Journal








We report high-precision X-ray monitoring observations in the 0.4-10 keV band of the luminous, long-period colliding wind binary Eta Carinae, up to and through its most recent X-ray minimum/periastron passage in 2020 February. Eta Carinae reached its observed maximum X-ray flux on 2020 January 7, at a flux level of 3.30 ×10-10 ergs s-1 cm-2, followed by a rapid plunge to its observed minimum flux, 0.03 × 10-10 ergs s-1 cm-2, near 2020 February 17. The NICER observations show an X-ray recovery from the minimum of only -1/416 days, the shortest X-ray minimum observed so far. We provide new constraints for the "deep"and "shallow"minimum intervals. Variations in the characteristic X-ray temperatures of the hottest observed X-ray emission indicate that the apex of the wind-wind "bow shock"enters the companion's wind acceleration zone about 81 days before the start of the X-ray minimum. There is a steplike increase in column density just before the X-ray minimum, probably associated with the presence of dense clumps near the shock apex. During the recovery and after, the column density shows a smooth decline, which agrees with previous N H measurements made by Swift at the same orbital phase, indicating that the changes in the mass-loss rate are only a few percent over the two cycles. Finally, we use the variations in the X-ray flux of the outer ejecta seen by NICER to derive a kinetic X-ray luminosity of the ejecta of -1/41041 ergs s-1 near the time of the "Great Eruption".

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National Aeronautics and Space Administration

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


Physics and Astronomy