Peculiar Transients as Probes of Stellar Evolution and Mass Loss

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Peculiar Transients as Probes of Stellar Evolution and Mass Loss

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Title: Peculiar Transients as Probes of Stellar Evolution and Mass Loss
Author: Drout, Maria R.
Citation: Drout, Maria R. 2016. Peculiar Transients as Probes of Stellar Evolution and Mass Loss. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
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Abstract: Multi-wavelength observations of supernovae (SN) not only probe the explosion mechanism, but also carry information about the configuration of the star at the moment of collapse and the mass-loss history of the progenitor system in the years immediately preceding its death. The study of supernovae therefore offers a rare observational view of the final stages of stellar evolution. As a result, the recent advent of wide-field SN searches---which are discovering new classes of astronomical transients at an ever-increasing rate---has both expanded the types of stellar systems that we can directly probe and challenged theoretical models of the late-stages of stellar evolution. This thesis explores several new regimes of transient space that have been opened by these modern, wide-field, time domain surveys. We present a series of observational studies which constrain the explosion properties, progenitor systems, and intrinsic rates for several classes of peculiar astronomical transients.

First, we investigate the properties of transients that reach SN luminosities but evolve on rapid timescales. We present a detailed study of the rapidly-declining hydrogen-poor SN 2005ek, showing that it could be produced by the core-collapse of a stripped massive star with a very small ejecta mass. We then describe results from the first systematic search for rapidly-evolving and luminous transients in a wide-field survey with a rapid cadence. Using data from the PanSTARRS1 Medium-Deep Survey (PS1-MDS), we both identified a new class of rapidly-evolving transients and calculated their intrinsic rates---demonstrating that these explosions are not intrinsically rare. Second, we utilize very early UV/spectroscopic observations and detailed multi-wavelength follow-up of the stripped-envelope core-collapse SN 2013ge to place constraints on the final configuration of the progenitor system. Finally, we investigate the progenitor stars and mass-loss mechanism that operates in a class of luminous SN that explode within a dense circumstellar medium (Type IIn SN). This is accomplished through a joint analysis of the explosion properties and host galaxy environments for a large number of events, including the full sample of Type IIn SN discovered by the PS1-MDS. We find that luminous Type IIn SN explode in a wide range of galaxies which are are robustly distinguished from the host galaxies of hydrogen-poor super-luminous SN in being more luminous, massive, and metal-rich. Furthermore, we show that a significant fraction of luminous Type IIn SN explode in the bright central regions of their host galaxies, indicating that the physical conditions for star formation in these environments are conducive for the formation of luminous Type IIn progenitors.
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