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Supernova flash spectroscopy: a new observational window into stellar death

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We present the technique of flash spectroscopy: rapid spectroscopic observation of supernovae, shortly (hours) after they explode. Strong shock breakout radiation flash-ionizes any surrounding circumstellar material (CSM) distributed around the exploding star, and the resulting recombination emission lines enable a direct measurement of the CSM composition. As the ejecta expand they sweep up the CSM , so a series of spectra tracking the emission line evolution will allow to constrain the physical distribution of gas around each event. The CSM around massive stars is a probe of their evolution during the final year prior to explosion, a critical period not easily accessible till now. We demonstrate the efficacy of this technique with recent studies from the iPTF survey that can regularly detect SNe hours after they explode.

This talk is part of the Institute of Astronomy Colloquia series.

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