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An outburst from a massive star 40 days before a supernova explosion


Some observations suggest that very massive stars experience extreme mass-loss episodes shortly before they explode as supernovae1,2,3,4, as do several models5,6,7. Establishing a causal connection between these mass-loss episodes and the final explosion would provide a novel way to study pre-supernova massive-star evolution. Here we report observations of a mass-loss event detected 40 days before the explosion of the type IIn supernova SN 2010mc (also known as PTF 10tel). Our photometric and spectroscopic data suggest that this event is a result of an energetic outburst, radiating at least 6 × 1047 erg of energy and releasing about 10−2 solar masses of material at typical velocities of 2,000 km s−1. The temporal proximity of the mass-loss outburst and the supernova explosion implies a causal connection between them. Moreover, we find that the outburst luminosity and velocity are consistent with the predictions of the wave-driven pulsation model6, and disfavour alternative suggestions7.

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Figure 1: The light curve of SN 2010mc as obtained with the Palomar 48-inch telescope.
Figure 2: Spectra of SN 2010mc, showing prominent Balmer emission lines.
Figure 3: Qualitative sketch of the proposed model for SN 2010mc.

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We thank E. Quataert and M. Cantiello for discussions. The VLA is operated by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, a facility of the US National Science Foundation (NSF) operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc. This paper is based on observations obtained with the Samuel Oschin Telescope as part of the Palomar Transient Factory project. We are grateful for the assistance of the staff at the various observatories where data were obtained. We acknowledge support from the Arye Dissentshik career development chair, the Helen Kimmel Center for Planetary Science, the Israeli Ministry of Science, the Royal Society, the NSF, the Israeli Science Foundation, the German-Israeli Foundation, ERC, the US Department of Energy, Gary and Cynthia Bengier, the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund, the Christopher R. Redlich Fund, and the TABASGO Foundation.

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Authors and Affiliations



E.O.O. initiated the search for precursor outbursts and wrote the paper, M.S. wrote the image-subtraction pipeline, S.B.C. reduced the Swift-UVOT observations, M.M.K. reduced the P60 observations, A.G.-Y. helped with the spectroscopic analysis, L.B., E.N. and N.J.S. contributed to the theoretical interpretation, A.V.F. assisted with the spectroscopy and edited the paper, D.A.H., D.M. and J.M.S. conducted the spectroscopic observations or reductions, O.Y. helped write the paper, and S.R.K., I.A., J.S.B., R.L., P.E.N. and J.S. built the PTF hardware and software infrastructure.

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Correspondence to E. O. Ofek.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Ofek, E., Sullivan, M., Cenko, S. et al. An outburst from a massive star 40 days before a supernova explosion. Nature 494, 65–67 (2013).

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