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Supernova 1996cr: SN 1987A's Wild Cousin?

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DOI: 10.1086/589761
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We report on new VLT optical spectroscopic and multi-wavelength archival observations of SN1996cr, a previously identified ULX known as Circinus Galaxy X-2. Our optical spectrum confirms SN1996cr as a bona fide type IIn SN, while archival imaging isolates its explosion date to between 1995-02-28 and 1996-03-16. SN1996cr is one of the closest SNe (~3.8 Mpc) in the last several decades and in terms of flux ranks among the brightest radio and X-ray SNe ever detected. The wealth of optical, X-ray, and radio observations that exist for this source provide relatively detailed constraints on its post-explosion expansion and progenitor history, including an preliminary angular size constaint from VLBI. The archival X-ray and radio data imply that the progenitor of SN1996cr evacuated a large cavity just prior to exploding: the blast wave likely expanded for ~1-2 yrs before eventually striking the dense circumstellar material which surrounds SN1996cr. The X-ray and radio emission, which trace the progenitor mass-loss rate, have respectively risen by a factor of ~2 and remained roughly constant over the past 7 yr. This behavior is reminiscent of the late rise of SN1987A, but 1000 times more luminous and much more rapid to onset. Complex Oxygen line emission in the optical spectrum further hints at a possible concentric shell or ring-like structure. The discovery of SN1996cr suggests that a substantial fraction of the closest SNe observed in the last several decades have occurred in wind-blown bubbles. An Interplanetary Network position allows us to reject a tentative GRB association with BATSE 4B960202. [Abridged]

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