PhD Thesis Defenses

PhD Thesis: The Circumstellar Environment of Type Ia Supernovae

Type Ia supernovae (SNe Ia) have proven to be extremely useful for measuring cosmological distances and were used for the discovery of the accelerated expansion of the universe. Although thousands of SNe Ia have been observed to date, many questions surrounding the physics of the explosions and the nature of their progenitor systems remain unanswered.

An notable property of many SNe Ia is the relation between extinction due to dust and their colour. For example SN 2014J, the nearest SN Ia in recent years, has an extinction relation which would be very unusual to observe in the Milky Way. One possible explanation to the peculiar extinction could be the presence of circumstellar (CS) dust surrounding the explosions. Incidentally, some proposed progenitor models of SNe Ia suggest that the explosions are surrounded by shells of matter, which could account for the unusual extinction.

CS gas would be ionised, if it is exposed to the intense ultraviolet (UV) radiation of a SN Ia. The research presented in this thesis focuses on the search for CS gas by observing the effects of photoionisation on absorption lines commonly detected in optical spectra. Simple models suggest that the frequently studied sodium doublet (Na I D) should significantly decrease or even disappear if the gas is in the CS environment. Conversely, the absence of variations implies that the absorbing gas clouds must be far from the explosion, in the interstellar medium (ISM). To date, few SNe Ia have been shown to have variable absorption lines, to which we have added another case with SN 2013gh. Yet, we have also shown that most observations searching for variable absorption lines have been taken at too late phases, when most CS gas will have already been ionised. Setting out to obtain the earliest possible coverage of a SN Ia with high-resolution spectra, we have been able to set strong limits on the presence of CS gas surrounding SN 2017cbv.

Along with evidence from other observational methods, these results have shown that there is little matter in the CS environments of SNe Ia, suggesting that the peculiar extinction likely results from the dust properties of their host galaxy ISM. Although the progenitor question cannot be resolved by these observations, nondetections of CS gas point to models which do not deposit large amounts of matter in their surroundings.

Keywords: Type Ia supernovae, extinction, supernova cosmology.