Discovery of an intermediate-luminosity red transient in M51 and its likely dust-obscured, infrared-variable progenitor
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Discovery of an intermediate-luminosity red transient in M51 and its likely dust-obscured, infrared-variable progenitor

  • Author(s): Jencson, Jacob E
  • Adams, Scott M
  • Bond, Howard E
  • Dyk, Schuyler D van
  • Kasliwal, Mansi M
  • Bally, John
  • Blagorodnova, Nadejda
  • De, Kishalay
  • Fremling, Christoffer
  • Yao, Yuhan
  • Fruchter, Andrew
  • Rubin, David
  • Barbarino, Cristina
  • Sollerman, Jesper
  • Miller, Adam A
  • Hicks, Erin KS
  • Malkan, Matthew A
  • Andreoni, Igor
  • Bellm, Eric C
  • Dekany, Richard
  • Feeney, Michael
  • Frederick, Sara
  • Gal-Yam, Avishay
  • Gehrz, Robert D
  • Giomi, Matteo
  • Graham, Matthew J
  • Hale, David
  • Hankins, Matthew J
  • Helou, George
  • Ho, Anna YQ
  • Hung, T
  • Jurić, Mario
  • Kulkarni, SR
  • Lau, Ryan M
  • Masci, Frank J
  • Neill, James D
  • Riddle, Reed L
  • Rusholme, Ben
  • Smith, Nathan
  • Smith, Roger M
  • Soumagnac, Maayane T
  • Tachibana, Yutaro
  • Tinyanont, Samaporn
  • Walters, Richard
  • Williams, Robert E
  • et al.

We present the discovery of an optical transient (OT) in Messier 51, designated M51 OT2019-1 (also ZTF 19aadyppr, AT 2019abn, ATLAS19bzl), by the Zwicky Transient Facility (ZTF). The OT rose over 15 days to an observed plateau luminosity of $M_r=-13$, in the luminosity gap between novae and supernovae (SNe). The spectral sequence shows a red continuum, prominent Balmer emission with a velocity width of $\approx400$ km s$^{-1}$, Ca II and [Ca II] emission, and absorption features (Ca II H+K, Na I D, O I 7774 \r{A} blend) characteristic of an F-type supergiant spectrum. The properties of spectra and multi-band light curves are similar in many ways to the so-called "SN impostors" and intermediate-luminosity red transients (ILRTs). We directly identify the likely progenitor in archival Spitzer imaging with a 4.5 $\mu$m luminosity of $M_{[4.5]}\approx-12.2$ mag and a $[3.6]-[4.5]$ color redder than $0.74$ mag, similar to those of the prototype ILRTs SN 2008S and NGC 300 OT2008-1. Intensive monitoring of M51 with Spitzer further reveals evidence for significant variability of the progenitor candidate at [4.5] in the years before the OT. There is no identifiable counterpart at the location of the OT in archival Hubble imaging. The optical colors combined with spectroscopic temperature constraints imply a higher reddening of $E(B-V)\approx0.7$ mag and higher intrinsic luminosity of $M_r\approx-14.9$ mag on the plateau than seen in previous ILRT candidates. Moreover, the extinction estimate is higher on the rise than on the plateau, suggestive of an extended phase of circumstellar dust destruction. These results, enabled by the early discovery of M51 OT2019-1 and extensive pre-outburst archival coverage, offer new clues about the debated origins of ILRTs and may challenge the hypothesis that they arise from the electron-capture induced collapse of extreme asymptotic-giant-branch stars.

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