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A giant outburst two years before the core-collapse of a massive star


The death of massive stars produces a variety of supernovae, which are linked to the structure of the exploding stars1,2. The detection of several precursor stars of type II supernovae has been reported (see, for example, ref. 3), but we do not yet have direct information on the progenitors of the hydrogen-deficient type Ib and Ic supernovae. Here we report that the peculiar type Ib supernova SN 2006jc is spatially coincident with a bright optical transient4 that occurred in 2004. Spectroscopic and photometric monitoring of the supernova leads us to suggest that the progenitor was a carbon-oxygen Wolf–Rayet star embedded within a helium-rich circumstellar medium. There are different possible explanations for this pre-explosion transient. It appears similar to the giant outbursts of luminous blue variable stars (LBVs) of 60–100 solar masses5, but the progenitor of SN 2006jc was helium- and hydrogen-deficient (unlike LBVs). An LBV-like outburst of a Wolf–Rayet star could be invoked, but this would be the first observational evidence of such a phenomenon. Alternatively, a massive binary system composed of an LBV that erupted in 2004, and a Wolf–Rayet star exploding as SN 2006jc, could explain the observations.

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Figure 1: The transients UGC 4904-V1 and SN 2006jc.
Figure 2: Light curve of SN 2006jc.
Figure 3: Spectra of SN 2006jc and line identification.
Figure 4: R-band light curves of UGC 4904-V1 and SN 2006jc compared with those of giant outbursts of LBVs.


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This work, conducted as part of the award ‘Understanding the lives of massive stars from birth to supernovae’ made under the European Heads of Research Councils and European Science Foundation EURYI Awards scheme, was supported by the Participating Organisations of EURYI and the EC Sixth Framework Programme, and also the Leverhulme Trust. J.D. was supported by the NSFC. This Letter is based on observations collected at the Asiago Observatory (Italy), the 2.16-m Telescope of National Astronomical Observatories (China), the Observatoire de Haute-Provence (France), Telescopio Nazionale Galileo, the Nordic Optical Telescope, the Liverpool Telescope and the William Herschel Telescope (La Palma, Canary Islands, Spain). We thank the support astronomers working at the Liverpool Telescope and Telescopio Nazionale Galileo for performing the follow-up observations of SN 2006jc. We are grateful to M. Ganeshalingam, A. V. Filippenko, R. J. Foley and W. Li for providing the photometric data of SN 2002ao.

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This file contains Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Discussion, Supplementary Figures 1-3 with Legends, Supplementary Tables 1-4 and additional references. (PDF 249 kb)

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Pastorello, A., Smartt, S., Mattila, S. et al. A giant outburst two years before the core-collapse of a massive star. Nature 447, 829–832 (2007).

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