Long-term (`superorbital') periods or modulations have been detected in a wide variety of both low- and high-mass X-ray binaries at X-ray and optical wavelengths. A variety of mechanisms have been proposed to account for the variability properties, such as precessing and/or warped accretion discs, amongst others. The All Sky Monitor onboard the Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer provides the most extensive ( ∼ 15 years) and sensitive X-ray archive for studying such behaviour. It is also clear that such variations can be intermittent and/or a function of X-ray spectral state. Consequently, we use a time-dependent dynamic power spectrum method to examine how these modulations vary with time in 25 X-ray binaries for which superorbital periodicities have been previously reported. Our aim is to characterize these periodicities in a completely systematic way. Some (such as Her X-1 and LMC X-4) are remarkably stable, but others show a range of properties, from even longer variability time-scales to quite chaotic behaviour.
2011 The Authors Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society2011 RAS