The NGC 300 Transient: An Alternative Method For Measuring Progenitor Masses

Gogarten, Stephanie M.
Dalcanton, Julianne J.
Murphy, Jeremiah W.
Williams, Benjamin F.
Gilbert, Karoline
Dolphin, Andrew
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We present an alternative technique for measuring the precursor masses of transient events in stars undergoing late stage stellar evolution. We use the well-established techniques of stellar population modeling to age-date the stars surrounding the site of the recent transient event in NGC 300 (NGC 300 OT2008-1). The surrounding stars must share a common turnoff mass with the transient, since almost all stars form in stellar clusters that remain physically associated for periods longer than the lifetime of the most massive stars. We find that the precursor of NGC 300 OT2008-1 is surrounded by stars that formed in a single burst between 8-13 Myr ago, with 70% confidence. The transient was therefore likely to be due to a progenitor whose mass falls between the main sequence turnoff mass (12 Msun) and the maximum stellar mass (25 Msun) found for isochrones bounding this age range. We characterize the general applicability of this technique in identifying precursor masses of historic and future transients and supernovae (SNe), noting that it requires neither precursor imaging nor sub-arcsecond accuracy in the position of the transient. It is also based on the well-understood physics of the main sequence, and thus may be a more reliable source of precursor masses than fitting evolutionary tracks to precursor magnitudes. We speculate that if the progenitor mass is close to 17 Msun, there may be a connection between optical transients such as NGC 300 OT2008-1 and the missing type II-P SNe, known as the "red supergiant problem."
Comment: 11 pages, 6 figures, accepted for publication in ApJ; revised to indicate a larger range for mass estimate
Astrophysics - Solar and Stellar Astrophysics