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A massive hypergiant star as the progenitor of the supernova SN 2005gl


Our understanding of the evolution of massive stars before their final explosions as supernovae is incomplete, from both an observational and a theoretical standpoint. A key missing piece in the supernova puzzle is the difficulty of identifying and studying progenitor stars. In only a single case—that of supernova SN 1987A in the Large Magellanic Cloud—has a star been detected at the supernova location before the explosion, and been subsequently shown to have vanished after the supernova event1. The progenitor of SN 1987A was a blue supergiant, which required a rethink of stellar evolution models2. The progenitor of supernova SN 2005gl was proposed to be an extremely luminous object3, but the association was not robustly established (it was not even clear that the putative progenitor was a single luminous star). Here we report that the previously proposed3 object was indeed the progenitor star of SN 2005gl. This very massive star was likely a luminous blue variable that standard stellar evolution predicts should not have exploded in that state.

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Figure 1: The progenitor star of SN 2005gl vanished after the supernova event.
Figure 2: Spectra of SN 2005gl centred on the region of the Hα emission line, presented in velocity scale.
Figure 3: Graphic illustrations of various manifestations of the violent evolution of the most luminous stars.


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We acknowledge advice from E. Nakar, R. Sari, E. Baron, S. Smartt, M. Modjaz and P. Mazzali, and E. Ofek also for his help with Fig. 1. This work is based on observations with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, obtained at the Space Telescope Science Institute, which is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., for NASA. A.G.-Y. acknowledges support by the Israeli Science Foundation, an EU Seventh Framework Programme Marie Curie IRG fellowship, the Benoziyo Center for Astrophysics, a research grant from the Peter and Patricia Gruber Awards, and the William Z. and Eda Bess Novick New Scientists Fund at the Weizmann Institute.

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Correspondence to A. Gal-Yam.

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Gal-Yam, A., Leonard, D. A massive hypergiant star as the progenitor of the supernova SN 2005gl. Nature 458, 865–867 (2009).

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