Supernova 1996cr: SN 1987A's wild cousin?

F. E. Bauer, V. V. Dwarkadas, W. N. Brandt, S. Immler, S. Smartt, N. Bartel, M. F. Bietenholz

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We report on new VLT optical spectroscopic and multiwavelength archival observations of SN 1996cr, a previously identified ultraluminous X-ray source known as Circinus galaxy X-2. Our optical spectrum confirms SN 1996cr as a bona fide Type IIn supernova, while archival imaging from the Anglo-Australian Telescope archive isolates the explosion date to between 1995 February 28 and 1996 March 16. SN 1996cr is one of the closest SNe (≈3.8 Mpc) in the last several decades, and in terms of flux ranks among the brightest radio and X-ray SNe ever detected. The wealth of optical, X-ray, and radio observations that exist for this source provide relatively detailed constraints on its postexplosion expansion and progenitor history, including a preliminary angular size constraint from VLBI. Archival X-ray and radio data imply that the progenitor of SN 1996cr evacuated a large cavity just prior to exploding: the blast wave likely spent ∼1 - 2 yr in relatively uninhibited expansion before eventually striking the dense circumstellar material which surrounds SN 1996cr. The X-ray and radio emission, which trace the progenitor mass-loss rate, have respectively risen by a factor of ≳2 and remained roughly constant over the past 7 years. This behavior is reminiscent of the late rise of SN 1987A, but 1000 times more luminous and much more rapid to onset. SN 1996cr may likewise provide us with a younger example of SN 1978K and SN 1979C, both of which exhibit flat X-ray evolution at late times. Complex oxygen line emission hints at a possible concentric shell or ringlike structure. The discovery of SN 1996cr suggests that a substantial fraction of the closest SNe observed in the last several decades have occurred in wind-blown bubbles, and argues for the phenomena being widespread.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1210-1234
Number of pages25
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 1 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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