The final steps of the evolution of massive stars leading to a supernova explosion, in particular the mass-loss mechanism, is an important open problem in astrophysics. Stripped-envelope supernovae (SESNe) are explosions of massive stars where a large amount of the outer envelope has been stripped away before the explosion: types IIb, Ib and Ic in order of increasing degree of envelope stripping1,2,3. In this work, an analysis of late-time nebular spectra of SESNe is presented. The results show that the progenitors of SNe IIb and Ib are indistinguishable except for the residual amount of the H-rich envelope. The progenitors of SNe Ic are distinctly different in the nature of the carbon–oxygen (C+O) core, which is interpreted to be more massive than in SNe IIb and Ib. These findings strongly suggest that different mechanisms are responsible for the removal of the outer H-rich envelope and the deeper He-rich layer.

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Data availability

Most of the light curves and spectra are available from WiseRep, The Open Supernova Catalogue and Supernova Database of Berkeley. The data that support the plots within this paper and other findings of this study are available from the corresponding authors upon reasonable request.

Additional information

Journal peer review information: Nature Astronomy thanks Mattias Ergon and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Q.F. acknowledges support by MEXT scholarship awarded by Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Japan. K.M. acknowledges support by JSPS KAKENHI Grant (18H04585, 18H05223, 17H02864). A.G.-Y. is supported by the EU via ERC grant number 725161, the ISF, the BSF Transformative program and by a Kimmel award. We thank A. Morales-Garoffolo for kindly providing the nebular spectra of SN 2013df. We thank WiseRep, the Open Supernova Catalog and the Berkeley Supernova Database for access to supernova data.

Author information


  1. Department of Astronomy, Kyoto University, Kitashirakawa-Oiwake-cho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto, Japan

    • Qiliang Fang
    •  & Keiichi Maeda
  2. Finnish Centre for Astronomy with ESO (FINCA), University of Turku, Turku, Finland

    • Hanindyo Kuncarayakti
  3. Tuorla Observatory, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Turku, Turku, Finland

    • Hanindyo Kuncarayakti
  4. Steward Observatory, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA

    • Fengwu Sun
  5. Department of Astronomy, School of Physics, Peking University, Beijing, China

    • Fengwu Sun
  6. Department of Particle Physics and Astrophysics, Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel

    • Avishay Gal-Yam


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Q.F. led the nebular spectral analysis and the manuscript preparatoin. K.M. contributed to the initiation of the project together with Q.F. K.M. and A.G.-Y. organized the efforts for interpretation of the results and assisted in manuscript preparation. H.K. contributed to the spectral analysis and interpretations. F.S. assisted in the spectral analysis. All authors contributed to discussion.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Qiliang Fang or Keiichi Maeda.

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