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A runaway collision in a young star cluster as the origin of the brightest supernova

Abstract

Supernova SN 2006gy in the galaxy NGC 1260 is the most luminous recorded1,2,3,4. Its progenitor might have been a very massive (>100, where is the mass of the Sun) star5, but that interpretation is incompatible with hydrogen in the spectrum of the supernova; stars >40 are believed to have shed their hydrogen envelopes several hundred thousand years before the explosion6. Alternatively, the progenitor might have arisen from the merger of two massive stars7. Here we show that the collision frequency of massive stars in a dense and young cluster (of the kind to be expected near the centre of a galaxy) is sufficient to provide a reasonable chance that SN 2006gy resulted from such a bombardment. If this is the correct explanation, then we predict that when the supernova fades (in a year or so) a dense cluster of massive stars will become visible at the site of the explosion.

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Figure 1: Mass of the collision runaway star as a function of cluster mass and its distance to the centre of NGC 1260.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the NWO, the Netherlands Research School for Astronomy (NOVA) and by a grant from the National Science Foundation to the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics in Santa Barbara.

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Correspondence to Simon F. Portegies Zwart or Edward P. J. van den Heuvel.

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Portegies Zwart, S., van den Heuvel, E. A runaway collision in a young star cluster as the origin of the brightest supernova. Nature 450, 388–389 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature06276

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