Superluminous supernovae at redshifts of 2.05 and 3.90

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Abstract

A rare class of ‘superluminous’ supernovae that are about ten or more times more luminous at their peaks than other types of luminous supernova has recently been found at low to intermediate redshifts1,2. A small subset of these events have luminosities that evolve slowly and result in radiated energies of up to about 1051 ergs. Therefore, they are probably examples of ‘pair-instability’ or ‘pulsational pair-instability’ supernovae with estimated progenitor masses of 100 to 250 times that of the Sun3,4,5. These events are exceedingly rare at low redshift, but are expected to be more common at high redshift because the mass distribution of the earliest stars was probably skewed to high values6,7. Here we report the detection of two superluminous supernovae, at redshifts of 2.05 and 3.90, that have slowly evolving light curves. We estimate the rate of events at redshifts of 2 and 4 to be approximately ten times higher than the rate at low redshift. The extreme luminosities of superluminous supernovae extend the redshift limit for supernova detection using present technology, previously 2.36 (ref. 8), and provide a way of investigating the deaths of the first generation of stars to form after the Big Bang.

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Figure 1: Light curves of high-redshift supernovae.
Figure 2: Absolute magnitude light curves of SLSNe.
Figure 3: Late-time spectra of the supernovae and host galaxies.

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Acknowledgements

We acknowledge support from ARC, NSERC and the Royal Society. A.G.-Y. acknowledges support from ISF, GIF, Minerva grants, an ARCHES award and the Lord Seiff of Brimpton Fund. This work was supported in part by a grant from the ANSTO AMRFP. The Access to Major Research Facilities Program is supported by the Commonwealth of Australia under the International Science Linkages program. The results presented here are based on observations obtained with MegaPrime/MegaCam, a joint project of the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) and CEA-Irfu, at the CFHT, which is operated by the National Research Council (NRC) of Canada, the Institut National des Sciences de l’Univers of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) of France, and the University of Hawaii. This work is based in part on data products produced at TERAPIX and the Canadian Astronomy Data Centre as part of the CFHT Legacy Survey, a collaborative project of the NRC and CNRS. We used data products from the Canadian Astronomy Data Centre as part of the CFHT Legacy Survey. The spectroscopic data presented here 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 the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The observatory was made possible by the generous financial support of the W. M. Keck Foundation. The CFHT and the W. M. Keck Observatory are located near the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii.

Author information

J.C. developed the detection technique and the modification for SLSNe; analysed the imaging data and performed the supernova selection; and obtained, reduced and analysed the spectroscopic observations. M.S. was responsible for the reduction and analysis of the seasonal image stacks, supernova flux extraction and supernova candidate light curves. A.G.-Y. provided supernova analysis and manuscript contributions and advice. E.J.B. performed observations and provided observing time and scientific discussions. R.G.C. provided manuscript advice, was one of the proponents of the CFHT Legacy Survey and, as the Canadian Principal Investigator, assembled the team responsible for much of the operation and analysis of the legacy survey. E.V.R.-W. enabled spectroscopic observations and provided discussions and student support. C.H. performed Keck spectroscopic observations and data reduction. Y.O. and C.G.D. performed Keck spectroscopic observations.

Correspondence to Jeff Cooke.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Cooke, J., Sullivan, M., Gal-Yam, A. et al. Superluminous supernovae at redshifts of 2.05 and 3.90. Nature 491, 228–231 (2012) doi:10.1038/nature11521

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