Hot subdwarf stars in close-up view. I. Rotational properties of subdwarf B stars in close binary systems and nature of their unseen companions
The origin of hot subdwarf B stars (sdBs) is still unclear. About half of the known sdBs are in close binary systems for which common envelope ejection is the most likely formation channel. Little is known about this dynamic phase of binary evolution. Since most of the known sdB systems are single-lined spectroscopic binaries, it is difficult to derive masses and unravel the companions' nature, which is the aim of this paper. Due to the tidal influence of the companion in close binary systems, the rotation of the primary becomes synchronised to its orbital motion. In this case it is possible to constrain the mass of the companion, if the primary mass, its projected rotational velocity as well as its surface gravity are known. For the first time we measured the projected rotational velocities of a large sdB binary sample from high resolution spectra. We analysed a sample of 51 sdB stars in close binaries, 40 of which have known orbital parameters comprising half of all such systems known today. Synchronisation in sdB binaries is discussed both from the theoretical and the observational point of view. The masses and the nature of the unseen companions could be constrained in 31 cases. We found orbital synchronisation most likely to be established in binaries with orbital periods shorter than . Only in five cases it was impossible to decide whether the sdB's companion is a white dwarf or an M dwarf. The companions to seven sdBs could be clearly identified as late M stars. One binary may have a brown dwarf companion. The unseen companions of nine sdBs are white dwarfs with typical masses. The mass of one white dwarf companion is very low. In eight cases (including the well known system KPD1930+2752) the companion mass exceeds , four of which even exceed the Chandrasekhar limit indicating that they may be neutron stars. Even stellar mass black holes are possible for the most massive companions. The distribution of the inclinations of the systems with low mass companions appears to be consistent with expectations, whereas a lack of high inclinations becomes obvious for the massive systems. We show that the formation of such systems can be explained with common envelope evolution and present an appropriate formation channel including two phases of unstable mass transfer and one supernova explosion. The sample also contains a candidate post-RGB star, which rotates fast despite its long orbital period. The post-RGB stars are expected to spin-up caused by their ongoing contraction. The age of the sdB is another important factor. If the EHB star is too young, the synchronisation process might not be finished yet. Estimating the ages of the target stars from their positions on the EHB band, we found PG 2345+318, which is known not to be synchronised, to lie near the zero-age extreme horizontal branch as are the massive candidates PG 1232-136, PG 1432+159 and PG 1101+249. These star may possibly be too young to have reached synchronisation. The derived large fraction of putative massive sdB binary systems in low inclination orbits is inconsistent with theoretical predictions. Even if we dismiss three candidates because they may be too young and assume that the other sdB primaries are of low mass, PG 1743+477 and, in particular, HE 0532-4503 remain as candidates whose companions may have masses close to or above the Chandrasekhar limit. X-ray observations and accurate photometry are suggested to clarify their nature. As high inclination systems must also exist, an appropriate survey has already been launched to find such binaries.