We systematically analyse all the available X-ray spectra of disc accreting neutron stars (atolls and millisecond pulsars) from the RXTE data base. We show that while all these have similar spectral evolution as a function of mass accretion rate, there are also subtle differences. There are two different types of hard/soft transition, those where the spectrum softens at all energies, leading to a diagonal track on a colour-colour diagram, and those where only the higher energy spectrum softens, giving a vertical track. The luminosity at which the transition occurs is correlated with this spectral behaviour, with the vertical transition at while the diagonal one is at ∼0.1. Superimposed on this is the well-known hysteresis effect, but we show that classic, large-scale hysteresis occurs only in the outbursting sources, indicating that its origin is in the dramatic rate of change of mass accretion rate during the disc instability. We show that the long-term mass accretion rate correlates with the transition behaviour, and speculate that this is due to the magnetic field being able to emerge from the neutron star surface for low average mass accretion rates. While this is not strong enough to collimate the flow except in the millisecond pulsars, its presence may affect the inner accretion flow by changing the properties of the jet.
- Accretion, accretion discs
- X-rays: binaries