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A massive star origin for an unusual helium-rich supernova in an elliptical galaxy


The unusual helium-rich (type Ib) supernova SN 2005E is distinguished from all supernovae hitherto observed by its faint and rapidly fading light curve, prominent calcium lines in late-phase spectra and lack of any mark of recent star formation near the supernova location. These properties are claimed1 to be explained by a helium detonation in a thin surface layer of an accreting white dwarf. Here we report that the observed properties of SN 2005cz, which appeared in an elliptical galaxy, resemble those of SN 2005E. We argue that these properties are best explained by a core-collapse supernova at the low-mass end (8–12 solar masses) of the range of massive stars that explode2. Such a low-mass progenitor lost its hydrogen-rich envelope through binary interaction, had very thin oxygen-rich and silicon-rich layers above the collapsing core, and accordingly ejected a very small amount of radioactive 56Ni and oxygen. Although the host galaxy NGC 4589 is an elliptical, some studies have revealed evidence of recent star-formation activity3, consistent with the core-collapse model.

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Figure 1: Early-time spectra of stripped-envelope core-collapse supernovae.
Figure 2: Late-time spectra of stripped-envelope core-collapse supernovae and faint supernovae.
Figure 3: Absolute R -band light curves of relevant supernovae.
Figure 4: Bolometric light curve.

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We thank D. Leonard for permission to publish his early-time spectrum of SN 2005cz, and S. Valenti for permission to use his spectra of SN 2008ha. We acknowledge advice and help from P. A. Mazzali. This work is based on observations collected at the 2.2-m telescope at the Calar Alto Observatory (Sierra de Los Filabres, Spain), at the Keck Telescope, and at the Subaru Telescope (operated by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan). We are grateful to the staff members at the observatories for their assistance, especially to T. Sasaki, K. Aoki, G. Kosugi, T. Takata and M. Iye. This research is supported by the World Premier International Research Center Initiative (WPI Initiative), MEXT, Japan, and by the Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) and MEXT. M.T. is supported through the JSPS Research Fellowship for Young Scientists. J.D. is supported by the NSFC and by the 973 Program of China.

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K.S.K., K.M., K.N., J.D. and E.P. organized the observations and discussions; K.M., K.N and K.S.K. wrote the manuscript; K.S.K., S.T. and K.I. were responsible for data acquisition and reduction; J.D. and E.P. were the Principal Investigators of the relevant Subaru programmes, S05B-132 and S05B-054, respectively; M.T. and S.T. contributed to discussions; and T.H. provided expertise on data acquisition at the Subaru Telescope.

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Correspondence to K. S. Kawabata.

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Kawabata, K., Maeda, K., Nomoto, K. et al. A massive star origin for an unusual helium-rich supernova in an elliptical galaxy. Nature 465, 326–328 (2010).

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