Numerical models of collisions between core-collapse supernovae and circumstellar shells

Allard Jan van Marle, Nathan Smith, Stanley P. Owocki, Bob van Veelen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


Recent observations of luminous Type IIn supernovae (SNe) provide compelling evidence that massive circumstellar shells surround their progenitors. In this paper we investigate how the properties of such shells influence the SN light curve by conducting numerical simulations of the interaction between an expanding SN and a circumstellar shell ejected a few years prior to core collapse. Our parameter study explores how the emergent luminosity depends on a range of circumstellar shell masses, velocities, geometries and wind mass-loss rates, as well as variations in the SN mass and energy. We find that the shell mass is the most important parameter, in the sense that higher shell masses (or higher ratios of Mshell/MSN) lead to higher peak luminosities and higher efficiencies in converting shock energy into visual light. Lower mass shells can also cause high peak luminosities if the shell is slow or if the SN ejecta are very fast, but only for a short time. Sustaining a high luminosity for durations of more than 100 d requires massive circumstellar shells of the order of 10 MȮ or more. This reaffirms previous comparisons between pre-SN shells and shells produced by giant eruptions of luminous blue variables (LBVs), although the physical mechanism responsible for these outbursts remains uncertain. The light-curve shape and observed shell velocity can help diagnose the approximate size and density of the circumstellar shell, and it may be possible to distinguish between spherical and bipolar shells with multi-wavelength light curves. These models are merely illustrative. One can, of course, achieve even higher luminosities and longer duration light curves from interaction by increasing the explosion energy and shell mass beyond values adopted here.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2305-2327
Number of pages23
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2010


  • Hydrodynamics
  • ISM: supernova remnants
  • Methods: numerical
  • Outflows
  • Stars: Mass-loss
  • Stars: winds
  • Supernovae: General

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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