Constraints on Type IIn supernova progenitor outbursts from the Lick Observatory Supernova Search

Christopher Bilinski, Nathan Smith, Weidong Li, G. Grant Williams, Wei Kang Zheng, Alexei V. Filippenko

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


We searched through roughly 12 years of archival survey data acquired by the Katzman Automatic Imaging Telescope (KAIT) as part of the Lick Observatory Supernova Search in order to detect or place limits on possible progenitor outbursts of Type IIn supernovae (SNe IIn). The KAIT data base contains multiple pre-SN images for five SNe IIn (plus one ambiguous case of an SN IIn/imposter) within 50 Mpc. No progenitor outbursts are found using the false discovery rate statistical method in any of our targets. Instead, we derive limiting magnitudes (LMs) at the locations of the SNe. These LMs (typically reaching mR ≈ 19.5mag) are compared to outbursts of SN 2009ip and η Car, plus additional simulated outbursts. We find that the data for SN 1999el and SN 2003dv are of sufficient quality to rule out events ~40 d before the main peak caused by initially faint SNe from blue supergiant precursor stars, as in the cases of SN 2009ip and SN 2010mc. These SNe IIn may thus have arisen from red supergiant progenitors, or they may have had a more rapid onset of circumstellar matter interaction. We also estimate the probability of detecting at least one outburst in our data set to be ≳60% for each type of the example outbursts, so the lack of any detections suggests that such outbursts are either typically less luminous (intrinsically or owing to dust) than ~-13 mag, or not very common among SNe IIn within a few years prior to explosion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)246-265
Number of pages20
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 27 2015


  • Stars: mass-loss
  • Stars: massive
  • Supernovae: general
  • Supernovae: individual: SN 1999el, SN 2003dv, SN 2006am, SN 2008fq, SN 2010jl, SN 2011A

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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