An Embedded X-Ray Source Shines through the Aspherical AT 2018cow: Revealing the Inner Workings of the Most Luminous Fast-evolving Optical Transients
Publication date: 06 February 2019
Authors: Margutti, R., et al.
Journal: The Astrophysical Journal
Copyright: © 2019. The American Astronomical Society
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 Lpk ~ 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 vsh ~ 0.1c with a dense environment (Ṁ ~ 10-3–10-4 M☉yr-1 for vw = 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 (Mej,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. [Remainder of abstract truncated due to character limitation]Link to publication