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Rapid formation of large dust grains in the luminous supernova 2010jl



The origin of dust in galaxies is still a mystery1,2,3,4. The majority of the refractory elements are produced in supernova explosions, but it is unclear how and where dust grains condense and grow, and how they avoid destruction in the harsh environments of star-forming galaxies. The recent detection of 0.1 to 0.5 solar masses of dust in nearby supernova remnants5,6,7 suggests in situ dust formation, while other observations reveal very little dust in supernovae in the first few years after explosion1,8,9,10. Observations of the spectral evolution of the bright SN 2010jl have been interpreted as pre-existing dust11, dust formation12,13 or no dust at all14. Here we report the rapid (40 to 240 days) formation of dust in its dense circumstellar medium. The wavelength-dependent extinction of this dust reveals the presence of very large (exceeding one micrometre) grains, which resist destruction15. At later times (500 to 900 days), the near-infrared thermal emission shows an accelerated growth in dust mass, marking the transition of the dust source from the circumstellar medium to the ejecta. This provides the link between the early and late dust mass evolution in supernovae with dense circumstellar media.

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Figure 1: Evolution of the hydrogen and oxygen line profiles in the spectrum of SN 2010jl.
Figure 2: Supernova dust extinction curves.
Figure 3: Maximum grain size and slope of the grain size distribution.
Figure 4: Temporal evolution of the dust mass.


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We thank L. Christensen and T. Frederiksen for advice on data reduction with the X-shooter pipeline and M. Stritzinger and R. Arendt for discussions. This investigation is based on observations made with ESO Telescopes at the La Silla Paranal Observatory under programme ID numbers 084.C-0315(D) and 087.C-0456(A). C.G. was supported from the NASA Postdoctoral Program (NPP) and acknowledges funding provided by the Danish Agency for Science and Technology and Innovation. G.L. is supported by the Swedish Research Council through grant number 623-2011-7117. A.C.D.-J. is supported by the Proyecto Basal PB06 (CATA), and partially supported by the Joint Committee ESO-Government Chile. The Dark Cosmology Centre is funded by the Danish National Research Foundation.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



C.G. and J.H. conducted the observational campaign, reduced and analysed the data and wrote the manuscript. D.W. was the Principal Investigator of the observing programmes and assisted in writing the manuscript. E.D. performed calculations of vaporization radii and assisted in writing the manuscript. O.F. and G.L. assisted in data analysis. J.R.M. helped with the interpretation of the spectra and line profiles. D.M. and D.W. assisted with observations. A.C.D.-J. conducted the observation of the epoch 2 spectrum. All authors were engaged in discussions and provided comments on the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Christa Gall.

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Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Figure 1 Time sequence of the supernova spectra.

Spectra (flux density (Jy)) from ten epochs between t = 26 days and 868 days past peak. The spectra are offset by an arbitrary constant. The atmospheric telluric bands at 1.33–1.43 μm and 1.79–1.96 μm have been excluded, as well as the dichroic gaps between the X-shooter instrument arms at 0.54–0.56 μm and 0.97–0.995 μm. The light-grey spectrum is an interpolated spectrum at the epoch of observations of the Infrared Array Camera 3.6 μm and 4.5 μm data (grey stars)11. The solid grey curves are fits to the spectra, composed of multiple distinct black-body functions.

Extended Data Figure 2 NIR excess dust emission in supernova spectra at three different epochs.

The spectral shape of the supernova (SN) shows little evolution for the early epochs (44 and 196 days past peak). The late epoch at 868 days exhibits strong NIR emission while the supernova continuum has faded. The atmospheric telluric bands at 1.33–1.43 μm and 1.79–1.96 μm, as well as the dichroic gaps of the X-shooter instrument arms at 0.54–0.56 μm and 0.97–0.995 μm, have been excluded.

Extended Data Figure 3 Line profiles.

a, Comparison of the observed line profile (left panel) to the line profile of the Lorentzian line fits (right panel), illustrated for Hβ λ4,861.35. b, The left panel shows the line profile of the Hα λ6,562.79 line. The progressive broadening of the line causes both the blue and red wings to cross at different epochs. The right panel shows the line profile of the He i λ5,875.621 line exhibiting a similar effect. The lines increasingly deviate from a Lorentzian profile.

Extended Data Figure 4 Development of the broad P Cygni profile of Hβ.

Within the early epochs (<239 days) the hydrogen emission line Hβ λ4,861.35 develops a strong P Cygni profile. The minimum of the P Cygni profile is at about 7,500 km s−1. The largest velocities associated with the P Cygni profile are at about 20,000 km s−1. The late epoch (868 days) has been scaled by a factor of ten and offset for better comparison to the early epochs. The Hβ line no longer exhibits features of high velocities. The wings of the intermediate-velocity component extend to around 2,000–3,000 km s−1.

Extended Data Figure 5 Velocity components and asymmetry of the intermediate emission lines.

a, The left panel shows that the Hα λ6,562.79 line cannot be fitted with a single Lorentzian (purple solid curve). The right panel shows the broad (pink dotted curve) and the intermediate-velocity component (purple dotted curve) and the combination of the two (blue solid curve). b, The Hβ λ4,861.35 line is asymmetric with respect to its peak velocities (approximately −458 km s−1 at 140 days and approximately −768 km s−1 at 239 days). The mirrored emission lines are shown as thin purple curves. The mirror axis is shown as a black dashed-dotted curve. Similar effects are seen for other emission lines.

Extended Data Figure 6 Evolution of the blueshift velocity of hydrogen and metal lines.

The blueshift of the hydrogen lines is wavelength-dependent and increases with time for the early epochs. At any epoch the blueshift is smaller for lines at longer wavelengths. The filled symbols correspond to the blueshifts of the hydrogen emission lines and the open circles correspond to the oxygen lines. The blueshift-to-HWHM ratio for the early epochs resembles the extinction curves (Fig. 2).

Extended Data Figure 7 Light curves.

a, Synthetic UVBRI and JHK light curves (filled circles) compared to the UBVRI optical photometry of ref. 12 (small stars). b, Energy output. The temporal evolution of the UVO and NIR luminosities (blue and red symbols, respectively) and the total bolometric (UVO + NIR) luminosity (black diamonds). The green curve is a t−0.4 power-law approximation to the UVO emission at early times. We have included data points from the literature (filled stars) at 553 days (ref. 12). The maximum possible contributions to the heating of the ejecta from the radioactively decaying 56Co and the isotope 44Ti are shown as a dotted curve and a dashed line, respectively.

Extended Data Figure 8 Dust vaporization radii and temperatures as a function of grain radius.

a, Radii Rcav, from an initial burst of radiation. b, Radii Rvap, from the observed supernova luminosity at 26 days. Rcav and Rvap depend on the vaporization temperatures Tvap,AC and Tvap,Si. The black line indicates the location, RCDS, of the CDS. c, The dust temperatures at RCDS, for grains heated by the supernova light and cooled through the NIR emission. The dashed line indicates Thot derived from the spectral fits (26 days). Amorphous carbon grains (solid curve) have temperatures ≤Tvap,AC. Silicate grains (dotted curve) would be hotter than Tvap,Si and therefore cannot exist.

Extended Data Figure 9 Dust mass at 239 days past peak.

a, Sensitivity of the dust mass to the parameters amax (coloured curves) and α of the grain-size distribution function. The filled coloured squares represent the dust masses for the parameters of the grain size distribution function of the 1σ (red), 2σ (orange) and 3σ (blue) confidence intervals (Figs 2c and 3). b, The extinction dust mass and its standard deviation (green-shaded band), the dust mass from the NIR emission (red-shaded band) and the radius range Rvap ≤ RCDS ≤ Rshock (blue lines and shaded area). The overlapping region (purple framed area) of the three bands constrains the radius of the CDS (RCDS) and the dust mass.

Extended Data Table 1 Log of the VLT/X-shooter observations of SN 2010jl

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This file contains additional discussions related to the interpretations of the data obtained for SN 2010jl and the data reported in the literature. It also establishes the robustness of the results. (PDF 221 kb)

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Gall, C., Hjorth, J., Watson, D. et al. Rapid formation of large dust grains in the luminous supernova 2010jl. Nature 511, 326–329 (2014).

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