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

A Corrigendum to this article was published on 10 July 2008


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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Figure 1: Discovery image and X-ray light curve of XRO 080109/SN 2008D.
Figure 2: Optical spectra of XRO 080109/SN 2008D, and model fit.
Figure 3: Optical and ultraviolet light curves of XRO 080109/SN 2008D, and model fit.
Figure 4: Radio light curves, spectra and image of XRO 080109/SN 2008D.
Figure 5: Volumetric rate of X-ray outbursts similar to XRO 080109.


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This Article is based in part on observations obtained at the Gemini Observatory through the Director’s Discretionary Time. Gemini is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., under a cooperative agreement with the NSF on behalf of the Gemini partnership: the NSF (US), the STFC (UK), the NRC (Canada), CONICYT (Chile), the ARC (Australia), CNPq (Brazil) and SECYT (Argentina). The VLA is operated by NRAO, a facility of the NSF operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc. Some of the data presented herein were obtained at the W. M. Keck Observatory, which is operated as a scientific partnership among the California Institute of Technology, the University of California and NASA. The Observatory was made possible by the financial support of the W. M. Keck Foundation. A.M.S. acknowledges support by NASA through a Hubble Fellowship.

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Correspondence to A. M. Soderberg.

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The file contains Supplementary Data, Supplementary Tables 1-6 and Supplementary Figures 1-9 with Legends. (PDF 1170 kb)

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Soderberg, A., Berger, E., Page, K. et al. An extremely luminous X-ray outburst at the birth of a supernova. Nature 453, 469–474 (2008).

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