Possible detection of a pair instability supernova in the modern universe, and implications for the first stars

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


SN 2006gy radiated far more energy in visual light than any other supernova so far, and potential explanations for its energy demands have implications for galactic chemical evolution and the deaths of the first stars. It remained bright for over 200 days, longer than any normal supernova, and it radiated more than 1051 ergs of luminous energy at visual wavelengths. I argue that this Type IIn supernova was probably the explosion of an extremely massive star like Eta Carinae that retained its hydrogen envelope when it exploded, having suffered relatively little mass loss during its lifetime. That this occurred at roughly Solar metallicity challenges current paradigms for mass loss in massive-star evolution. I explore a few potential explanations for SN2006gy's power source, involving either circumstellar interaction, or instead, the decay of 56Ni to 56Co to 56Fe. If SN 2006gy was powered by the conversion of shock energy into light, then the conditions must be truly extraordinary and traditional interaction models don't work. If SN 2006gy was powered by radioactive decay, then the uncomfortably huge 56Ni mass requires that the star exploded as a pair instability supernova. The mere possibility of this makes SN 2006gy interesting, especially at this meeting, because it is the first good candidate for a genuine pair instability supernova.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationFirst Stars III
Number of pages5
StatePublished - 2008
EventFirst Stars III - Santa Fe, NM, United States
Duration: Jul 15 2007Jul 20 2007

Publication series

NameAIP Conference Proceedings
ISSN (Print)0094-243X
ISSN (Electronic)1551-7616


OtherFirst Stars III
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CitySanta Fe, NM


  • SN 2006gy
  • Supemovae

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Physics and Astronomy


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