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  1. Abstract We present Hubble Space Telescope (HST) imaging of the site of SN 2015bh in the nearby spiral galaxy NGC 2770 taken between 2017 and 2019, nearly four years after the peak of the explosion. In 2017–2018, the transient fades steadily in optical filters before declining more slowly to F814W = −7.1 mag in 2019, ≈4 mag below the level of its eruptive luminous blue variable (LBV) progenitor observed with HST in 2008–2009. The source fades at a constant color of F555W − F814W = 0.4 mag until 2018, similar to SN 2009ip and consistent with a spectrum dominated by interaction of the ejecta with circumstellar material (CSM). A deep optical spectrum obtained in 2021 lacks signatures of ongoing interaction ( L H α ≲ 10 38 erg s −1 for broadened emission ≲2000 km s −1 ), but indicates the presence of a nearby H ii region (≲300 pc). The color evolution of the fading source makes it unlikely that emission from a scattered-light echo or binary OB companion of the progenitor contributes significantly to the flattening of the late-time light curve. The remaining emission in 2019 may plausibly be attributed an evolved/inflated companion or an unresolved (≲3 pc),more »young stellar cluster. Importantly, the color evolution of SN 2015bh rules out scenarios in which the surviving progenitor is obscured by nascent dust and does not clearly indicate a transition to a hotter, optically faint state. The simplest explanation is that the massive progenitor did not survive. SN 2015bh likely represents a remarkable example of the terminal explosion of a massive star preceded by decades of end-stage eruptive variability.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available August 1, 2023
  2. Abstract We present the discovery of an exceptional dimming event in a cool supergiant star in the Local Volume spiral M51. The star, dubbed M51-DS1, was found as part of a Hubble Space Telescope (HST) search for failed supernovae (SNe). The supergiant, which is plausibly associated with a very young (≲6 Myr) stellar population, showed clear variability (amplitude Δ F 814 W ≈ 0.7 mag) in numerous HST images obtained between 1995 and 2016, before suddenly dimming by >2 mag in F 814 W sometime between late 2017 and mid-2019. In follow-up data from 2021, the star rebrightened, ruling out a failed supernova. Prior to its near-disappearance, the star was luminous and red ( M F 814 W ≲ − 7.6 mag, F 606 W − F 814 W = 1.9–2.2 mag). Modeling of the pre-dimming spectral energy distribution of the star favors a highly reddened, very luminous ( log [ L / L ⊙ ] = 5.4 –5.7) star with T eff ≈ 3700–4700 K, indicative of a cool yellow or post-red supergiant (RSG) with an initial mass of ≈26–40 M ⊙ . However, the local interstellar extinction and circumstellar extinction are uncertain, and could be lower: the near-IRmore »colors are consistent with an RSG, which would be cooler ( T eff ≲ 3700 K) and slightly less luminous ( log [ L / L ⊙ ] = 5.2 –5.3), giving an inferred initial mass of ≈19–22 M ⊙ . In either case, the dimming may be explained by a rare episode of enhanced mass loss that temporarily obscures the star, potentially a more extreme counterpart to the 2019–2020 “Great Dimming” of Betelgeuse. Given the emerging evidence that massive evolved stars commonly exhibit variability that can mimic a disappearing star, our work highlights a substantial challenge in identifying true failed SNe.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available May 1, 2023
  3. Abstract The dense central regions of tidally disrupted galaxies can survive as ultracompact dwarfs (UCDs) that hide among the luminous globular clusters (GCs) in the halo of massive galaxies. An exciting confirmation of this model is the detection of overmassive black holes in the centers of some UCDs, which also lead to elevated dynamical mass-to-light ratios ( M / L dyn ). Here we present new high-resolution spectroscopic observations of 321 luminous GC candidates in the massive galaxy NGC 5128/Centaurus A. Using these data we confirm 27 new luminous GCs, and measure velocity dispersions for 57 luminous GCs (with g -band luminosities between 2.5 × 10 5 and 2.5 × 10 7 L ⊙ ), of which 48 are new measurements. Combining these data with size measurements from Gaia, we determine the M / L dyn for all 57 luminous GCs. We see a clear bimodality in the M / L dyn distribution, with a population of normal GCs with mean M / L dyn = 1.51 ± 0.31, and a second population of ∼20 GCs with elevated mean M / L dyn = 2.68 ± 0.22. We show that black holes with masses ∼4%–18% of the luminous GCs canmore »explain the elevated mass-to-light ratios. Hence, it is plausible that the NGC 5128 sources with elevated M / L dyn are mostly stripped galaxy nuclei that contain massive central black holes, though future high spatial resolution observations are necessary to confirm this hypothesis for individual sources. We also present a detailed discussion of an extreme outlier, VHH81-01 , one of the largest and most massive GC in NGC 5128, making it an exceptionally strong candidate to be a tidally stripped nucleus.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available April 1, 2023
  4. Abstract We explore the observational appearance of the merger of a low-mass star with a white dwarf (WD) binary companion. We are motivated by recent work finding that multiple tensions between the observed properties of cataclysmic variables (CVs) and standard evolution models are resolved if a large fraction of CV binaries merge as a result of unstable mass transfer. Tidal disruption of the secondary forms a geometrically thick disk around the WD, which subsequently accretes at highly super-Eddington rates. Analytic estimates and numerical hydrodynamical simulations reveal that outflows from the accretion flow unbind a large fraction ≳90% of the secondary at velocities ∼500–1000 km s −1 within days of the merger. Hydrogen recombination in the expanding ejecta powers optical transient emission lasting about a month with a luminosity ≳10 38 erg s −1 , similar to slow classical novae and luminous red novae from ordinary stellar mergers. Over longer timescales the mass accreted by the WD undergoes hydrogen shell burning, inflating the remnant into a giant of luminosity ∼300–5000 L ⊙ , effective temperature T eff ≈ 3000 K, and lifetime ∼10 4 –10 5 yr. We predict that ∼10 3 –10 4 Milky Way giants are CV merger products,more »potentially distinguishable by atypical surface abundances. We explore whether any Galactic historical slow classical novae are masquerading CV mergers by identifying four such post-nova systems with potential giant counterparts for which a CV merger origin cannot be ruled out. We address whether the historical transient CK Vul and its gaseous/dusty nebula resulted from a CV merger.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 1, 2022
  5. Abstract We present deep Hubble Space Telescope (HST) imaging of five faint dwarf galaxies associated with the nearby spiral NGC 253 (D ≈ 3.5 Mpc). Three of these are newly discovered dwarf galaxies, while all five were found in the Panoramic Imaging Survey of Centaurus and Sculptor, a Magellan+Megacam survey to identify faint dwarfs and other substructures in resolved stellar light around massive galaxies outside of the Local Group. Our HST data reach ≳3 magnitudes below the tip of the red giant branch for each dwarf, allowing us to derive their distances, structural parameters, and luminosities. All five systems contain mostly old, metal-poor stellar populations (age ∼12 Gyr, [M/H] ≲ −1.5) and have sizes ( r h ∼ 110–3000 pc) and luminosities ( M V ∼ −7 to −12 mag) largely consistent with Local Group dwarfs. The three new NGC 253 satellites are among the faintest systems discovered beyond the Local Group. We also use archival H i data to place limits on the gas content of our discoveries. Deep imaging surveys such as our program around NGC 253 promise to elucidate the faint end of the satellite luminosity function and its scatter across a range of galaxy masses, morphologies,more »and environments in the decade to come.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available February 1, 2023
  6. Abstract We present high-cadence optical and ultraviolet light curves of the normal Type Ia supernova (SN) 2021aefx, which shows an early bump during the first two days of observation. This bump may be a signature of interaction between the exploding white dwarf and a nondegenerate binary companion, or it may be intrinsic to the white dwarf explosion mechanism. In the case of the former, the short duration of the bump implies a relatively compact main-sequence companion star, although this conclusion is viewing-angle dependent. Our best-fit companion-shocking and double-detonation models both overpredict the UV luminosity during the bump, and existing nickel-shell models do not match the strength and timescale of the bump. We also present nebular spectra of SN 2021aefx, which do not show the hydrogen or helium emission expected from a nondegenerate companion, as well as a radio nondetection that rules out all symbiotic progenitor systems and most accretion disk winds. Our analysis places strong but conflicting constraints on the progenitor of SN 2021aefx; no current model can explain all of our observations.
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available July 1, 2023
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