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Title: Subaru and Keck Observations of the Peculiar Type Ia Supernova 2006gz at Late Phases
Authors: Keiichi Maeda, Koji Kawabata, Weidong Li, Masaomi Tanaka, Paolo A. Mazzali, Takashi Hattori, Ken'ichi Nomoto, Alex V. Filippenko

Recently, a few peculiar Type Ia supernovae (SNe) that show exceptionally large peak luminosity have been discovered. Their luminosity requires more than 1 Msun of 56Ni ejected during the explosion, suggesting that they might have originated from super-Chandrasekhar mass white dwarfs (WDs). However, the nature of these objects is not yet well understood. In particular, no data have been taken at late phases, about one year after the explosion. We report on Subaru and Keck optical spectroscopic and photometric observations of the SN Ia 2006gz, which had been classified as being one of these "overluminous" SNe Ia. The late-time behavior is distinctly different from that of normal SNe Ia, reinforcing the argument that SN 2006gz belongs to a different subclass than normal SNe Ia. However, the peculiar features found at late times are not readily connected to a large amount of 56Ni; the SN is faint, and it lacks [Fe II] and [Fe III] emission. If the bulk of the radioactive energy escapes the SN ejecta as visual light, as is the case in normal SNe Ia, the mass of 56Ni does not exceed ~ 0.3 Msun. We discuss several possibilities to remedy the problem. With the limited observations, however, we are unable to conclusively identify which process is responsible. An interesting possibility is that the bulk of the emission might be shifted to longer wavelengths, unlike the case in other SNe Ia, which might be related to dense C-rich regions as indicated by the early-phase data. Alternatively, it might be the case that SN 2006gz, though peculiar, was actually not substantially overluminous at early times.

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Unusually bright supernovae from asymmetric stellar explosions
Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics (MPA) have proposed a new model for recently observed extraordinarily bright supernovae.

Supernovae have driven the development of astronomy and fascinated mankind for centuries as they are spectacular manifestations of the limited lifetime of stars. Indeed, the Type Ia subclass of these events, which is believed to originate from a thermonuclear explosion of a star at the end of its evolution, is among the brightest events that presently can be observed in the Universe. Such Type Ia supernovae are as bright as billions of Suns. But what makes them particularly valuable for astronomy is that not only are they bright but their brightness seems to be very uniform. Therefore they have been used as cosmic lighthouses to survey the Universe. This has led to campaigns observing Type Ia supernovae in large numbers. Recently, these observations showed that although the brightness of the majority of events is rather uniform, some rare events exist which are more than twice as bright as usual (e.g. Howell et al. 2006; Hicken et al. 2007).

Supernov_1
Slice through the asymmetric composition resulting from a three-dimensional thermonuclear supernova simulation. Yellow/white indicates nickel while unburned material is shown in blue.

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Originally, astronomers thought that supernova SN 2006gz was just another example of a white dwarf stealing material from a partner star. But a closer look revealed signs of extra carbon and silicon, hallmarks of a smash-up between two white dwarf stars.
SN 2006gz was also brighter than researchers expected, suggesting that its origins included more material than the 1.4 solar mass upper limit of a single white dwarf star.
The observations offer new evidence for what until now has been only a theoretical way for supernovas to form. Since single white dwarf-spawned supernovas, also known as Type 1a explosions, are used as a standard for judging cosmic distances, separating them from those caused by two-white dwarf collisions will be critical for future research.

2006gz_ge1
Supernova 2006gz, marked in this photo, shows the strongest evidence yet that it was caused by the merger of two white dwarfs. It was located in spiral galaxy IC 1277, located approximately 300 million light-years away in the constellation Hercules.
Credit
J.L. Prieto & M. Hicken (CfA)

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Astronomers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics (CfA) have found that a supernova discovered last year was caused by two colliding white dwarf stars. The white dwarfs were siblings orbiting each other. They slowly spiralled inward until they merged, touching off a titanic explosion. CfA observations show the strongest evidence yet of what was, until now, a purely theoretical mechanism for creating a supernova.

"This finding shows that nature may be richer than we suspected, with more than one way to make a white dwarf explode" - Malcolm Hicken, Harvard graduate student and first author .

The paper describing this discovery appeared in the 1 November issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
Astronomers characterise an observed supernova based on whether its spectrum shows evidence of hydrogen (Type II) or not (Type I). In Type II, a massive, short-lived star undergoes core collapse and explodes. In the conventional picture for Type Ia, the most common supernovae lacking hydrogen, a white dwarf star collects gas from a companion star until it undergoes catastrophic nuclear fusion and blasts itself apart.
The new find, supernova 2006gz, was classified as a Type Ia due to the lack of hydrogen and other characteristics. However, an analysis combining CfA data with measurements from The Ohio State University suggested that SN 2006gz was unusual and deserved a closer look.
Most importantly, SN 2006gz showed the strongest spectral signature of unburned carbon ever seen. Merging white dwarfs are expected to have carbon outside their densest regions. The powerful explosion from the inside then should push off the outmost carbon-rich layers.
The spectrum of SN 2006gz also showed evidence for compressed layers of silicon. Silicon was created during the explosion and then compressed by a shock wave that rebounded from the surrounding layers of carbon and oxygen. Computer models for merging white dwarfs predict both the carbon and silicon spectral signatures.
Additionally, SN 2006gz was brighter than expected, indicating that its progenitor exceeded the 1.4 solar mass Chandrasekhar limit the upper bound for a single white dwarf. Only one other potential example of a super-Chandrasekhar supernova has been seen: SN 2003fg. While observations of that event were suggestive, the data from SN 2006gz are much stronger.

"Our case is different. Although 2006gz is also extra bright, the chemistry we see, particularly unburned carbon, is well observed and very unusual" - Harvard astronomer Robert Kirshner, a member of the discovery team.

In addition to providing the first example of a new way to make supernovae, SN 2006gz holds implications for the field of cosmology. Type Ia supernovae typically have a narrow spread in brightness, which makes them useful as standard candles for calculating cosmic distances. It was the study of Type Ia supernovae that led to the discovery of dark energy, the mysterious force causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate.
If Type Ia supernovae are more varied than previously expected, then astronomers must be extra cautious when using them to study the cosmos.

"Supernova 2006gz stands out from normal Type Ia objects and wouldnt be included in cosmology studies. But we have to be careful not to mistake a double white dwarf explosion for a single white dwarf blast. SN 2006gz was easy to recognise, but there may be less clear-cut cases" - Malcolm Hicken.

The full list of authors of the study is: Malcolm Hicken, Stephane Blondin and Robert Kirshner (CfA); Peter Garnavich (University of Notre Dame); Jose Prieto and Darren DePoy (The Ohio State University); and Jerod Parrent (University of Oklahoma). This research was supported by the National Science Foundation.
Headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics (CfA) is a joint collaboration between the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the Harvard College Observatory. CfA scientists, organised into six research divisions, study the origin, evolution and ultimate fate of the universe.

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Title: The Luminous and Carbon-Rich Supernova 2006gz: A Double Degenerate Merger?
Authors: M. Hicken, P. M. Garnavich, J. L. Prieto, S. Blondin, D. L. DePoy, R. P. Kirshner, J. Parrent

Spectra and light curves of SN 2006gz show the strongest signature of unburned carbon and one of the slowest fading light curves ever seen in a type Ia event (Delta m_15 = 0.69 0.04). The early-time Si II velocity is low, implying it was slowed by an envelope of unburned material. Our best estimate of the luminosity implies M_V = -19.74 and the production of ~ 1.2 M_sun of 56Ni. This suggests a super-Chandrasekhar mass progenitor. A double degenerate merger is consistent with these observations.

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