Letter | Published:

The binary progenitor of Tycho Brahe's 1572 supernova

Nature volume 431, pages 10691072 (28 October 2004) | Download Citation



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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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.).

Author information


  1. Department of Astronomy, University of Barcelona, Marti i Franques 1, E-08028 Barcelona, Spain

    • Pilar Ruiz-Lapuente
    • , Javier Méndez
    •  & Ramon Canal
  2. Max-Planck-Institut für Astrophysik, Karl-Schwarzschild-Strasse 1, 85748 Garching, Germany

    • Pilar Ruiz-Lapuente
  3. European Southern Observatory, Karl-Schwarzschild-Strasse 2, 85748 Garching, Germany

    • Fernando Comeron
  4. Isaac Newton Group, PO Box 321, Santa Cruz de La Palma, Tenerife, Canary Islands, E-38780 Spain

    • Javier Méndez
  5. Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge, Madingley Road, Cambridge CB3 0HA, UK

    • Stephen J. Smartt
  6. Department of Astronomy, 601 Campbell Hall, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720-3411, USA

    • Alexei V. Filippenko
    • , Ryan Chornock
    •  & Ryan J. Foley
  7. Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138, USA

    • Robert L. Kurucz
  8. Department of Physics, Stockholm University, AlbaNova University Center, SE-108 91 Stockholm, Sweden

    • Vallery Stanishev
  9. Observatoire de Strasbourg, 11, rue de l'Université, F-67000 Strasbourg, France

    • Rodrigo Ibata


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Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Pilar Ruiz-Lapuente.

Supplementary information

PDF files

  1. 1.

    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.

  2. 2.

    Supplementary Table 2

    Hubble Space Telescope data sets used for proper motion measurements.

  3. 3.

    Supplementary Table 3

    Magnitudes and radial velocities of the stars.

  4. 4.

    Supplementary Methods

    Specification of the the WFPC2 measurements.

  5. 5.

    Supplementary Note 1

    Note on the origin of the asymmetry in Tycho SNR.

  6. 6.

    Supplementary Discussion

    Further discussion on red giant and main sequence stars.

  7. 7.

    Supplementary Figure 1

    Spectra of Tycho G showing it to be a subgiant not belonging to the halo population.

  8. 8.

    Supplementary Note 2

    Tycho Brahe SN as a U Sco system.

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