Signatures of circumstellar interaction in the unusual transient at 2018cow

Ori D. Fox, Nathan Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


AT 2018cow is a unique transient that stands out due to its relatively fast light curve, high peak bolometric luminosity, and blue colour. These properties distinguish it from typical radioactively powered core-collapse supernovae (SNe). Instead, the characteristics are more similar to a growing sample of Fast Blue Optical Transients (FBOTs). Mostly discovered at hundreds of Mpc, FBOT follow-up is usually limited to several photometry points and low signal-to-noise spectra. At only ∼60 Mpc, AT 2018cow offers an opportunity for detailed follow-up. Studies of this object published to date propose a number of interpretations for AT 2018cow, but none of these specifically consider the interacting Type Ibn SN subclass. We point out that while narrow lines do not dominate the spectrum of AT 2018cow, as narrow Balmer lines typically do in SNe IIn, the narrow lines in AT 2018cow may nevertheless include emission from pre-shock CSM. In particular, the He I lines in AT 2018cow are broader than H II region lines in the same spectrum, and they closely resemble He I lines in some examples of SNe Ibn or transitional SNe Ibn/IIn objects. We compare AT 2018cow to interacting SNe Ibn and IIn and find a number of noteworthy similarities, including light-curve rise and fall times, peak magnitude, X-ray light curves, and spectroscopic properties. We therefore explore the hypothesis that CSM interaction in a relatively H-poor system might help explain some observed properties of AT 2018cow, and we go on to consider progenitor implications for AT 2018cow, FBOTs, and SNe Ibn.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3772-3782
Number of pages11
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 21 2019


  • Circumstellar matter
  • PS1-12sk
  • PTF09uj
  • SN 1998S
  • SN 1999cq
  • SN 2006jc
  • Supernovae: general
  • Supernovae: individual (AT 2018cow)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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