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Positron annihilation signatures associated with the outburst of the microquasar V404 Cygni


Microquasars1,2,3,4 are stellar-mass black holes accreting matter from a companion star5 and ejecting plasma jets at almost the speed of light. They are analogues of quasars that contain supermassive black holes of 106 to 1010 solar masses. Accretion in microquasars varies on much shorter timescales than in quasars and occasionally produces exceptionally bright X-ray flares6. How the flares are produced is unclear, as is the mechanism for launching the relativistic jets and their composition. An emission line near 511 kiloelectronvolts has long been sought in the emission spectrum of microquasars as evidence for the expected electron–positron plasma. Transient high-energy spectral features have been reported in two objects7,8, but their positron interpretation9 remains contentious. Here we report observations of γ-ray emission from the microquasar V404 Cygni during a recent period of strong flaring activity10. The emission spectrum around 511 kiloelectronvolts shows clear signatures of variable positron annihilation, which implies a high rate of positron production. This supports the earlier conjecture that microquasars may be the main sources of the electron–positron plasma responsible for the bright diffuse emission of annihilation γ-rays in the bulge region of our Galaxy11. Additionally, microquasars could be the origin of the observed megaelectronvolt continuum excess in the inner Galaxy.

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Figure 1: Spectral evolution of V404 Cygni.
Figure 2: Model alternatives for epoch 3.
Figure 3: Time history of X-ray continuum and annihilation emission.


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The INTEGRAL/SPI project has been completed under the responsibility and leadership of CNES; we are grateful to ASI, CEA, CNES, DLR, ESA, INTA, NASA and OSTC for support of this ESA space science mission. R.D. and J.G. are also supported by the Munich excellence cluster ‘Origin and evolution of the Universe’. M.G.H.K. is supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, project number PR 569/10-1, as part of DFG Priority Program 1573. J.R. acknowledges funding support from the French Research National Agency, CHAOS project ANR-12-BS05-0009, and from the UnivEarthS Labex program of Sorbonne Paris Cité.

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Authors and Affiliations



T.S. was responsible for the spectroscopy analysis, data modelling, and paper writing, and R.D. led the analysis and paper writing. J.G., M.G.H.K. and A.M.B. were responsible for interpretational aspects and crucial inputs to the paper. J.G. was responsible for analysis of the Fermi data, M.C.B and J.R. contributed in microquasar physics, F.G. in data analysis, A.W.S. in γ-ray continuum and cosmic-ray physics, and X.Z. was responsible for data preparation and reduction, and the instrument response.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Thomas Siegert.

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Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Figure 1 Spectral shape of annihilation emission from a relativistic thermal pair plasma.

Each curve shows intensity per unit energy and is labelled with θ (= kT/mec2), the dimensionless temperature. The model is used to quantify the width of the observed annihilation line (see Methods section ‘Spectral fitting’). The grey shaded area is the integrated flux over all energies for this thermal plasma annihilation model (TPA).

Extended Data Table 1 Spectral fit parameters for the flaring epochs of V404 Cygni
Extended Data Table 2 Goodness-of-fit for spectra
Extended Data Table 3 Spectral fit result details for the alternative model M2
Extended Data Table 4 Significance estimates of additional components
Extended Data Table 5 Spectral fit parameters for the third flaring epoch

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Siegert, T., Diehl, R., Greiner, J. et al. Positron annihilation signatures associated with the outburst of the microquasar V404 Cygni. Nature 531, 341–343 (2016).

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