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The binary progenitor of Tycho Brahe's 1572 supernova

Abstract

The brightness of type Ia supernovae, and their homogeneity as a class, makes them powerful tools in cosmology, yet little is known about the progenitor systems of these explosions. They are thought to arise when a white dwarf accretes matter from a companion star, is compressed and undergoes a thermonuclear explosion1,2,3. Unless the companion star is another white dwarf (in which case it should be destroyed by the mass-transfer process itself), it should survive and show distinguishing properties. Tycho's supernova4,5 is one of only two type Ia supernovae observed in our Galaxy, and so provides an opportunity to address observationally the identification of the surviving companion. Here we report a survey of the central region of its remnant, around the position of the explosion, which excludes red giants as the mass donor of the exploding white dwarf. We found a type G0–G2 star, similar to our Sun in surface temperature and luminosity (but lower surface gravity), moving at more than three times the mean velocity of the stars at that distance, which appears to be the surviving companion of the supernova.

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Figure 1: Positions and proper motions of stars.
Figure 2: The SN 1572 field and radial velocity of the stars.
Figure 3: Model fits to observed spectra.

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Acknowledgements

P.R.L. thanks C. Ruiz Ogara for giving her the spirit to complete this survey. We thank the support staff at the European Northern Observatory at La Palma for their assistance throughout this project, as well as the support staff at the W. M. Keck Observatory and NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. We express our special gratitude to C. Abia, F. Figueras, C. Guirao, R. Mignani and J. Torra for diverse consultations. This work has been supported by DURSI, DGYCIT (to P.R.L., J.M. and R.C.), PPARC (to J.M. and S.J.S.) and by NSF (to A.V.F., R.C., R.J.F. and R.L.K.).

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Correspondence to Pilar Ruiz-Lapuente.

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The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Table 1

Spectroscopic runs at the 4.2m William Herschel Telescope (WHT), the 2.5m Nordic Optical Telescope (NOT) and the 10m Keck I and Keck II telescopes used in this work. (PDF 83 kb)

Supplementary Table 2

Hubble Space Telescope data sets used for proper motion measurements. (PDF 159 kb)

Supplementary Table 3

Magnitudes and radial velocities of the stars. (PDF 111 kb)

Supplementary Methods

Specification of the the WFPC2 measurements. (PDF 100 kb)

Supplementary Note 1

Note on the origin of the asymmetry in Tycho SNR. (PDF 83 kb)

Supplementary Discussion

Further discussion on red giant and main sequence stars. (PDF 217 kb)

Supplementary Figure 1

Spectra of Tycho G showing it to be a subgiant not belonging to the halo population. (PDF 278 kb)

Supplementary Note 2

Tycho Brahe SN as a U Sco system. (PDF 77 kb)

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Ruiz-Lapuente, P., Comeron, F., Méndez, J. et al. The binary progenitor of Tycho Brahe's 1572 supernova. Nature 431, 1069–1072 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature03006

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