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No hot and luminous progenitor for Tycho’s supernova


Type Ia supernovae have proven vital to our understanding of cosmology, both as standard candles and for their role in galactic chemical evolution; however, their origin remains uncertain. The canonical accretion model implies a hot and luminous progenitor that would ionize the surrounding gas out to a radius of ~10–100 pc for ~100,000 years after the explosion. Here, we report stringent upper limits on the temperature and luminosity of the progenitor of Tycho’s supernova (SN 1572), determined using the remnant itself as a probe of its environment. Hot, luminous progenitors that would have produced a greater hydrogen ionization fraction than that measured at the radius of the present remnant (~3 pc) can thus be excluded. This conclusively rules out steadily nuclear-burning white dwarfs (supersoft X-ray sources), as well as disk emission from a Chandrasekhar-mass white dwarf accreting approximately greater than 10−8M  yr−1 (recurrent novae; M is equal to one solar mass). The lack of a surrounding Strömgren sphere is consistent with the merger of a double white dwarf binary, although other more exotic scenarios may be possible.

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  • 20 October 2017

    In the version of this Article originally published the variable in equation (1) representing neutral hydrogen was incorrect and should have read H0. This has been corrected in all versions of the Article.


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The work of P.G. was supported by grants HST-GO-12545.08 and HST-GO-14359.011. C.B. acknowledges support from grants NASA ADAP NNX15AM03G S01 and NSF/AST-1412980. M.G. acknowledges partial support by Russian Scientific Foundation (RNF) project 14-22-00271.

Author information

T.E.W. led the cloudy simulations and analysis of their results, and was the primary author of the main text and methods. P.G. wrote the supplementary section of the paper, and wrote portions of the main manuscript summarizing the constraints on preshock conditions from the Balmer-dominated shocks. C.B. first suggested this project during the conference ‘Supernova Remnants: An Odyssey In Space After Stellar Death’ in Crete, and contributed to the text and the interpretation of the analysis. M.G. contributed to defining the simulations setup, analysis and interpretation of cloudy results and to the writing of the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Correspondence to T. E. Woods.

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Fig. 1: Hydrogen ionization fraction as a function of radial distance from the progenitor of SN 1572, for putative objects with different effective temperatures.
Fig. 2: Upper limits on the typical luminosity of the progenitor of SN 1572 during the past 100,000 yr.