Hubble Space Telescope Imaging Reveals That SN 2015bh Is Much Fainter than Its Progenitor

Jacob E. Jencson, David J. Sand, Jennifer E. Andrews, Nathan Smith, Jay Strader, Mojgan Aghakhanloo, Jeniveve Pearson, Stefano Valenti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations

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 Hα 2 1038 erg s-1 for broadened emission 22000 km s-1), but indicates the presence of a nearby H ii region ( 2300 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 ( 23 pc), 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberL33
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Volume935
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 1 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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