SN 2016iet: The Pulsational or Pair Instability Explosion of a Low-metallicity Massive CO Core Embedded in a Dense Hydrogen-poor Circumstellar Medium

Sebastian Gomez, Edo Berger, Matt Nicholl, Peter K. Blanchard, V. Ashley Villar, Locke Patton, Ryan Chornock, Joel Leja, Griffin Hosseinzadeh, Philip S. Cowperthwaite

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


We present optical photometry and spectroscopy of SN 2016iet (=Gaia16bvd=PS17brq), an unprecedented Type I supernova (SN I) at z = 0.0676 with no obvious analog in the existing literature. SN 2016iet exhibits a peculiar light curve, with two roughly equal brightness peaks (≈ -19 mag) separated by about 100 days, and a subsequent slow decline by about 5 mag in 650 rest-frame days. The spectra are dominated by strong emission lines of calcium and oxygen, with a width of only 3400 km s-1, superposed on a strong blue continuum in the first year. There is no clear evidence for hydrogen or helium associated with the SN at any phase. The nebular spectra exhibit a ratio of , much larger than for core-collapse SNe and Type I superluminous SNe. We model the light curves with several potential energy sources: radioactive decay, a central engine, and ejecta-circumstellar medium (CSM) interaction. Regardless of the model, the inferred progenitor mass near the end of its life (i.e., the CO core mass) is ⪆55 M o and potentially up to 120 M o, clearly placing the event in the regime of pulsational pair instability supernovae (PPISNe) or pair instability supernovae (PISNe). The models of CSM interaction provide the most consistent explanation for the light curves and spectra, and require a CSM mass of ≈35 M o ejected in the final decade before explosion. We further find that SN 2016iet is located at an unusually large projected offset (16.5 kpc, 4.3 effective radii) from its low-metallicity dwarf host galaxy (Z ≈ 0.1 Z o, L ≈ 0.02 L , M ≈ 108.5 M o), supporting the interpretation of a PPISN/PISN explosion. In our final spectrum at a phase of about 770 rest-frame days we detect weak and narrow Hα emission at the location of the SN, corresponding to a star formation rate of ≈3 ×10-4 M o yr-1, which is likely due to a dim underlying galaxy host or an H ii region. Despite the overall consistency of the SN and its unusual environment with PPISNe and PISNe, we find that the inferred properties of SN 2016iet challenge existing models of such events.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number87
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 20 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • supernovae: general
  • supernovae: individual (SN2016iet)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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