LOFT and the Variable X-ray Sky

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A Specialist Discussion Meeting organised by: Tom Maccarone (Southampton) tjm<@> , Roberto Mignani (MSSL) rm2<@> and Silvia Zane (MSSL) Sz<@>


Summary: X-ray emitting objects show variability on timescales from milliseconds to millions of years.  In much the same way that stellar pulsations have held the key to developing a real understanding of the structure of normal stars, X-ray variability can provide key insights into the structure of neutron stars and the accretion disks around compact objects. Indeed, high-time-resolution X-ray observations of compact objects provide direct access to strong-field gravity, black hole masses and spins, and the equation of state of ultra-dense matter (and hence provide inputs to particle physics not testable in the laboratory and unique tests of general relativity).

LOFT (the Large Observatory for X-ray Timing), one of the four M3 missions that have been selected by ESA for an assessment phase with launch in 2020-2022. Its pointed instrument is the Large Area Detector (a UK-based instrument led by MSSL with contributions from Leicester), a 10 m2-class instrument with 20 times the collecting area of the best past timing missions (as RXTE). It will operate in the 2-30keV range, holding the capability to revolutionise studies of variability from X-ray sources.

LOFT will also revolutionise studies of slower variability by providing a wide field monitor (2-50 keV) with instantaneous coverage of about 1/4 of the sky - 10 times the field of view of any past X-ray monitor. This will open the opportunity to discover new, rare classes of transients, especially in conjunction with the variability surveys at longer and shorter wavelengths set to start in the near future.

LOFT's unprecedented new capabilities will open the field of X-ray variability to communities beyond those traditionally making use of X-ray timing missions.  This meeting presents an opportunity for the UK community to learn about the mission and to contribute with new ideas about what it might accomplish.


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