Superluminous supernovae : theory and observations



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The discovery of superluminous supernovae in the past decade challenged our understanding of explosive stellar death. Subsequent extensive observations of superluminous supernova light curves and spectra has provided some insight for the nature of these events. We present observations of one of the most luminous self-interacting supernovae ever observed, the hydrogen-rich SN 2008am discovered by the Robotic Optical Transient Search Experiment Supernova Verification Project with the ROTSE-IIIb telescope located in the McDonald Observatory. We provide theoretical modeling of superluminous supernova light curves and fit the models to a number of observed events and similar transients in order to understand the mechanism that is responsible for the vast amounts of energy emitted by these explosions. The models we investigate include deposition of energy due to the radioactive decays of massive amounts of nickel-56, interaction of supernova ejecta with a dense circumstellar medium and magnetar spin-down. To probe the nature of superluminous supernovae progenitor stars we study the evolution of massive stars, including important effects such as rotation and magnetic fields, and perform multi-dimensional hydrodynamics simulations of the resulting explosions. The effects of rotational mixing are also studied in solar-type secondary stars in cataclysmic variable binary star systems in order to provide an explanation for some carbon-depleted examples of this class. We find that most superluminous supernovae can be explained by violent interaction of the SN ejecta with >1 Msun dense circumstellar shells ejected by the progenitor stars in the decades preceding the SN explosion.