PhD Thesis Defenses

An X-Ray View of Core-collapse Supernovae


A core-collapse supernova (CCSN) is an astronomical explosion that indicates the death of a massive star. From observations, it is clear that a large fraction of all massive stars undergoes supernova (SN) explosions, but describing how SNe explode has remained a challenge for many decades. A key piece of the puzzle is the properties of the progenitor star.

The attached papers focus on comparing theoretical predictions with observations, primarily observations of SN 1987A. It is the closest observed SN in more than four centuries, allowing for more detailed studies than for any other SN. The papers investigate different aspects of the SN phenomenon. These individual studies are observationally diverse, but all attempt to answer different questions that are important for our understanding of the SN process.

The properties of the progenitor star set the stage for the SN. Paper III compares SN models based on different progenitor stars with early X-ray and gamma-ray observations of SN 1987A. The results help constrain the evolution of the progenitor. In Paper IV, we searched for SN shock breakouts (SBOs), which are the first electromagnetic signals from CCSNe. The discovered candidates convey information about the progenitors, test the SBO theory, and indicate the presence of other types of X-ray transients.

The SN explosion mechanism itself is also integral to the analysis in Paper III. The explosion models used in Paper III rely on some of the most recent three-dimensional neutrino-driven SN models. The results lend further support to the hypothesis that delayed neutrino heating is sufficient to explode the vast majority of all CCSNe.

Much can also be learned about SNe by studying their remnants. The remains of the core, the compact remnant, in SN 1987A has not yet been detected. We have investigated how a compact object can remain hidden in the ejecta in Paper I, using an absorption model from Paper II. We favor a scenario where the compact object is a neutron star that is quiescent, dust-obscured, and only emitting thermal emission. Paper V is another study of SN 1987A, but focuses on the X-ray emission from the ongoing interactions between the ejecta and circumstellar medium (CSM). The X-ray emission is primarily generated by thermal processes in shocks produced by collisions between the ejecta and the CSM. We found no evidence for any contribution from relativistic particles or a neutron star.

Our description of CCSNe continues to improve but many questions remain unanswered. Future observations will further our knowledge and the models we have studied can be used for continued analyses. The next generation of X-ray missions is very promising and a Galactic SN, which would greatly accelerate the entire research field, could occur at any time.