skip to main content

Title: Real-time Discovery of AT2020xnd: A Fast, Luminous Ultraviolet Transient with Minimal Radioactive Ejecta
The many unusual properties of the enigmatic AT2018cow suggested that at least some subset of the empirical class of fast blue optical transients (FBOTs) represents a genuinely new astrophysical phenomenon. Unfortunately, the intrinsic rarity and fleeting nature of these events have made it difficult to identify additional examples early enough to acquire the observations necessary to constrain theoretical models. We present here the Zwicky Transient Facility discovery of AT2020xnd (ZTF20acigmel, the "Camel") at z=0.243, the first unambiguous AT2018cow analog to be found and confirmed in real time. AT2018cow and AT2020xnd share all key observational properties: a fast optical rise, sustained high photospheric temperature, absence of a second peak attributable to ejection of a radioactively-heated stellar envelope, extremely luminous radio, millimetre, and X-ray emission, and a dwarf-galaxy host. This supports the argument that AT2018cow-like events represent a distinct phenomenon from slower-evolving radio-quiet supernovae, likely requiring a different progenitor or a different central engine. The sample properties of the four known members of this class to date disfavour tidal disruption models but are consistent with the alternative model of an accretion powered jet following the direct collapse of a massive star to a black hole. Contextual filtering of alert streams combined with rapid photometric verification using multi-band imaging provides an efficient way to identify future members of this class, even at high redshift.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
1440341 2034437
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; more » ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; « less
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    Mounting evidence suggests that luminous fast blue optical transients (LFBOTs) are powered by a compact object, launching an asymmetric and fast outflow responsible for the radiation observed in the ultraviolet, optical, infrared, radio, and X-ray bands. Proposed scenarios aiming to explain the electromagnetic emission include an inflated cocoon, surrounding a jet choked in the extended stellar envelope. Alternatively, the observed radiation may arise from the disk formed by the delayed merger of a black hole with a Wolf–Rayet star. We explore the neutrino production in these scenarios, i.e., internal shocks in a choked jet and interaction between the outflow and the circumstellar medium (CSM). If observed on axis, the choked jet provides the dominant contribution to the neutrino fluence. Intriguingly, the IceCube upper limit on the neutrino emission inferred from the closest LFBOT, AT2018cow, excludes a region of the parameter space otherwise allowed by electromagnetic observations. After correcting for the Eddington bias on the observation of cosmic neutrinos, we conclude that the emission from an on-axis choked jet and CSM interaction is compatible with the detection of two track-like neutrino events observed by the IceCube Neutrino Observatory in coincidence with AT2018cow, and otherwise considered to be of atmospheric origin. While the neutrino emission from LFBOTs does not constitute the bulk of the diffuse background of neutrinos observed by IceCube, the detection prospects of nearby LFBOTs with IceCube and the upcoming IceCube-Gen2 are encouraging. Follow-up neutrino searches will be crucial for unraveling the mechanism powering this emergent transient class.

    more » « less
  2. Abstract

    Luminous fast blue optical transients (LFBOTs) such as AT2018cow form a rare class of engine-powered explosions of uncertain origin. A hallmark feature of these events is radio/millimeter synchrotron emission powered by the interaction of fast ≳0.1cejecta and dense circumstellar material (CSM) extending to large radii ≳1016cm surrounding the progenitor. Assuming this CSM to be an outflow from the progenitor, we show that dust grains up to ∼1μm in size can form in the outflow in the years before the explosion. This dusty CSM would attenuate the transient’s ultraviolet emission prior to peak light, before being destroyed by the rising luminosity, reddening the premaximum colors (consistent with the premaximum red-to-blue color evolution of the LFBOT candidate MUSSES2020J). Reradiation by the dust before being destroyed generates a near-infrared (NIR) “echo” of luminosity ∼1041–1042erg s−1lasting weeks, which is detectable over the transient’s rapidly fading blue continuum. We show that this dust echo is compatible with the previously unexplained NIR excess observed in AT2018cow. The gradual decay of the early NIR light curve can result from CSM, which is concentrated in a wide-angle equatorial outflow or torus, consistent with the highly aspherical geometry of AT2018cow’s ejecta. Premaximum optical/UV and NIR follow-up of LFBOTs provide a new probe of their CSM environments and place additional constraints on their progenitors.

    more » « less
  3. We present 42 rapidly evolving (time spent above half-maximum brightness t1/2<12d) extragalactic transients from Phase I of the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF), of which 22 have spectroscopic classifications. This is one of the largest systematically selected samples of day-timescale transients, and the first with spectroscopic classifications. Most can be classified as core-collapse supernovae (SNe), and we identify several predominant subtypes: (1) subluminous Type IIb or Type Ib SNe; (2) luminous Type Ibn or hybrid IIn/Ibn SNe; and (3) radio-loud, short-duration luminous events similar to AT2018cow. We conclude that rates quoted in the literature for rapidly evolving extragalactic transients are dominated by the subluminous events (mostly Type IIb SNe). From our spectroscopic classifications and radio, X-ray, and millimeter-band upper limits, we are motivated to consider the AT2018cow-like objects a distinct class, and use ZTF's systematic classification experiments to calculate that their rate does not exceed 0.1% of the local core-collapse SN rate, in agreement with previous work. By contrast, most other events are simply the extreme of a continuum of established SN types extending to ordinary timescales. The light curves of our objects are very similar to those of unclassified events in the literature, illustrating how spectroscopically classified samples of low-redshift objects in shallow surveys like ZTF can be used to photometrically classify larger numbers of events at higher redshift. 
    more » « less

    The astronomical transient AT2018cow is the closest example of the new class of luminous, fast blue optical transients (FBOTs). Liverpool telescope RINGO3 observations of AT 2018cow are reported here, which constitute the earliest polarimetric observations of an FBOT. At $5.7\, \mathrm{days}$ post-explosion, the optical emission of AT2018cow exhibited a chromatic polarization spike that reached $\sim 7{{\ \rm per\ cent}}$ at red wavelengths. This is the highest intrinsic polarization recorded for a non-relativistic explosive transient and is observed in multiple bands and at multiple epochs over the first night of observations, before rapidly declining. The apparent wavelength dependence of the polarization may arise through depolarization or dilution of the polarized flux, due to conditions in AT 2018cow at early times. A second ‘bump’ in the polarization is observed at blue wavelengths at $\sim 12\, \mathrm{days}$. Such a high polarization requires an extremely aspherical geometry that is only apparent for a brief period (<1 d), such as shock breakout through an optically thick disk. For a disk-like configuration, the ratio of the thickness to radial extent must be $\sim 10{{\ \rm per\ cent}}$.

    more » « less
  5. Abstract

    We present a search for extragalactic fast blue optical transients (FBOTs) during Phase I of the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF). We identify 38 candidates with durations above half-maximum light 1 day <t1/2< 12 days, of which 28 have blue (gr≲ −0.2 mag) colors at peak light. Of the 38 transients (28 FBOTs), 19 (13) can be spectroscopically classified as core-collapse supernovae (SNe): 11 (8) H- or He-rich (Type II/IIb/Ib) SNe, 6 (4) interacting (Type IIn/Ibn) SNe, and 2 (1) H&He-poor (Type Ic/Ic-BL) SNe. Two FBOTs (published previously) had predominantly featureless spectra and luminous radio emission: AT2018lug (The Koala) and AT2020xnd (The Camel). Seven (five) did not have a definitive classification: AT 2020bdh showed tentative broad Hαin emission, and AT 2020bot showed unidentified broad features and was 10 kpc offset from the center of an early-type galaxy. Ten (eight) have no spectroscopic observations or redshift measurements. We present multiwavelength (radio, millimeter, and/or X-ray) observations for five FBOTs (three Type Ibn, one Type IIn/Ibn, one Type IIb). Additionally, we search radio-survey (VLA and ASKAP) data to set limits on the presence of radio emission for 24 of the transients. All X-ray and radio observations resulted in nondetections; we rule out AT2018cow-like X-ray and radio behavior for five FBOTs and more luminous emission (such as that seen in the Camel) for four additional FBOTs. We conclude that exotic transients similar to AT2018cow, the Koala, and the Camel represent a rare subset of FBOTs and use ZTF’s SN classification experiments to measure the rate to be at most 0.1% of the local core-collapse SN rate.

    more » « less