Article

Nature 453, 469-474 (22 May 2008) | doi:10.1038/nature06997; Received 11 February 2008; Accepted 4 April 2008

There is a Corrigendum (10 July 2008) associated with this document.

An extremely luminous X-ray outburst at the birth of a supernova

A. M. Soderberg1,2, E. Berger1,2, K. L. Page3, P. Schady4, J. Parrent5, D. Pooley6, X.-Y. Wang7, E. O. Ofek8, A. Cucchiara9, A. Rau8, E. Waxman10, J. D. Simon8, D. C.-J. Bock11, P. A. Milne12, M. J. Page4, J. C. Barentine13, S. D. Barthelmy14, A. P. Beardmore3, M. F. Bietenholz15,16, P. Brown9, A. Burrows1, D. N. Burrows9, G. Byrngelson17, S. B. Cenko18, P. Chandra19, J. R. Cummings20, D. B. Fox9, A. Gal-Yam10, N. Gehrels20, S. Immler20, M. Kasliwal8, A. K. H. Kong21, H. A. Krimm20,22, S. R. Kulkarni8, T. J. Maccarone23, P. Mészáros9, E. Nakar24, P. T. O'Brien3, R. A. Overzier25, M. de Pasquale4, J. Racusin9, N. Rea26 & D. G. York27

  1. Department of Astrophysical Sciences, Princeton University, Ivy Lane, Princeton, New Jersey 08544, USA
  2. Carnegie Observatories, 813 Santa Barbara Street, Pasadena, California 91101, USA
  3. Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Leicester, Leicester LE1 7RH, UK
  4. Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London, Holmbury St Mary, Dorking, Surrey RH5 6NT, UK
  5. Physics and Astronomy Department, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire 03755, USA
  6. Astronomy Department, University of Wisconsin, 475 North Charter Street, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA
  7. Department of Astronomy, Nanjing University, Nanjing 210093, China
  8. Department of Astronomy, 105-24, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California 91125, USA
  9. Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania 16802, USA
  10. Faculty of Physics, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot 76100, Israel
  11. Radio Astronomy Laboratory, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720, USA
  12. Steward Observatory, University of Arizona, 933 North Cherry Avenue, Tucson, Arizona 85721, USA
  13. Department of Astronomy, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas 78712, USA
  14. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland 20771, USA
  15. Department of Physics and Astronomy, York University, Toronto, Ontario M3J 1P3, Canada
  16. Hartebeestehoek Radio Observatory, PO Box 443, Krugersdorp, 1740, South Africa
  17. Department of Physics and Astronomy, Clemson University, Clemson, South Carolina 29634, USA
  18. Space Radiation Laboratory, 220-47, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California 91125, USA
  19. Department of Astronomy, University of Virginia, PO Box 400325, Charlottesville, Virginia 22904, USA
  20. CRESST and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland 20771, USA
  21. Institute of Astronomy and Department of Physics, National Tsing Hua University, Hsinchu, Taiwan
  22. Universities Space Research Association, 10211 Wincopin Circle, #500, Columbia, Maryland 21044, USA
  23. School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Southampton, Southampton SO17 1BJ, UK
  24. Theoretical Astrophysics, 130-33, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California 91125, USA
  25. Max-Planck-Institut für Astrophysik, D-85748 Garching, Germany
  26. University of Amsterdam, Astronomical Institute 'Anton Pannekoek', Kruislaan 403, 1098SJ, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  27. Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of Chicago, 5640 S. Ellis Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60637, USA

Correspondence to: A. M. Soderberg1,2 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to A.M.S. (Email: alicia@astro.princeton.edu).

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Massive stars end their short lives in spectacular explosions—supernovae—that synthesize new elements and drive galaxy evolution. Historically, supernovae were discovered mainly through their 'delayed' optical light (some days after the burst of neutrinos that marks the actual event), preventing observations in the first moments following the explosion. As a result, the progenitors of some supernovae and the events leading up to their violent demise remain intensely debated. Here we report the serendipitous discovery of a supernova at the time of the explosion, marked by an extremely luminous X-ray outburst. We attribute the outburst to the 'break-out' of the supernova shock wave from the progenitor star, and show that the inferred rate of such events agrees with that of all core-collapse supernovae. We predict that future wide-field X-ray surveys will catch each year hundreds of supernovae in the act of exploding.

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