Multiepoch VLT-FORS spectropolarimetric observations of supernova 2012aw reveal an asymmetric explosion

Luc Dessart, Douglas C. Leonard, D. John Hillier, Giuliano Pignata

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

We present VLT-FORS spectropolarimetric observations of the type II supernova (SN) 2012aw taken at seven epochs during the photospheric phase, from 16 to 120 d after explosion. We corrected for interstellar polarization by postulating that the SN polarization is naught near the rest wavelength of the strongest lines - this is later confirmed by our modeling. SN 2012aw exhibits intrinsic polarization, with strong variations across lines, and with a magnitude that grows in the 7000 Å line-free region from 0.1% at 16 d up to 1.2% at 120 d. This behavior is qualitatively similar to observations gathered for other type II SNe. A suitable rotation of Stokes vectors places the bulk of the polarization in q, suggesting the ejecta of SN 2012aw is predominantly axisymmetric. Using an upgraded version of our 2D polarized radiative transfer code, we modeled the wavelength- and time-dependent polarization of SN 2012aw. The key observables may be explained by the presence of a confined region of enhanced 56Ni at 4000 km s-1, which boosts the electron density in a cone having an opening angle of 50 deg and an observer's inclination of 70 deg to the axis of symmetry. With this fixed asymmetry in time, the observed evolution of the SN 2012aw polarization arises from the evolution of the ejecta optical depth, ionization, and the relative importance of multiple versus single scattering. However, the polarization signatures exhibit numerous degeneracies. Cancellation effects at early times imply that low polarization may even occur for ejecta with a large asymmetry. An axisymmetric ejecta with a latitudinal-dependent explosion energy can also yield similar polarization signatures as asymmetry in the 56Ni distribution. In spite of these uncertainties, SN 2012aw provides additional evidence for the generic asymmetry of type II SN ejecta, of which VLT-FORS spectropolarimetric observations are a decisive and exquisite probe.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberA19
JournalAstronomy and Astrophysics
Volume651
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2021

Keywords

  • Polarization
  • Radiative transfer
  • Supernovae: general

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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