An Embedded X-Ray Source Shines through the Aspherical AT2018cow: Revealing the Inner Workings of the Most Luminous Fast-evolving Optical Transients

Citation:

Margutti R, Metzger B D, Chornock R, Vurm I, Roth N, Grefenstette B W, Savchenko V, Cartier R, Steiner J F, Terreran G, et al. An Embedded X-Ray Source Shines through the Aspherical AT2018cow: Revealing the Inner Workings of the Most Luminous Fast-evolving Optical Transients. The Astrophysical Journal [Internet]. 2019;872 :18.

Abstract:

We present the first extensive radio to γ-ray observations of a fast-rising blue optical transient, AT 2018cow, over its first ∼100 days. AT 2018cow rose over a few days to a peak luminosity L pk ∼ 4 × 1044 erg s‑1, exceeding that of superluminous supernovae (SNe), before declining as L ∝ t ‑2. Initial spectra at δt ≲ 15 days were mostly featureless and indicated large expansion velocities v ∼ 0.1c and temperatures reaching T ∼ 3 × 104 K. Later spectra revealed a persistent optically thick photosphere and the emergence of H and He emission features with v ∼ 4000 km s‑1 with no evidence for ejecta cooling. Our broadband monitoring revealed a hard X-ray spectral component at E ≥ 10 keV, in addition to luminous and highly variable soft X-rays, with properties unprecedented among astronomical transients. An abrupt change in the X-ray decay rate and variability appears to accompany the change in optical spectral properties. AT 2018cow showed bright radio emission consistent with the interaction of a blast wave with v sh ∼ 0.1c with a dense environment (\dot{M}∼ {10}-3-{10}-4 {M}ȯ {yr}}-1 for v = 1000 km s‑1). While these properties exclude 56Ni-powered transients, our multiwavelength analysis instead indicates that AT 2018cow harbored a “central engine,” either a compact object (magnetar or black hole) or an embedded internal shock produced by interaction with a compact, dense circumstellar medium. The engine released ∼1050–1051.5 erg over ∼103–105 s and resides within low-mass fast-moving material with equatorial–polar density asymmetry (M ej,fast ≲ 0.3 M ). Successful SNe from low-mass H-rich stars (like electron-capture SNe) or failed explosions from blue supergiants satisfy these constraints. Intermediate-mass black holes are disfavored by the large environmental density probed by the radio observations.

Publisher's Version

Last updated on 03/08/2019