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Astron. Astrophys. 355, 525-531 (2000)

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Direct measurement of the supernova rate in starburst galaxies

J.D. Bregman 1, P. Temi 1 and D. Rank 2

1 NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA 94035, USA (jbregman@mail.arc.nasa.gov; temi@ssa1.arc.nasa.gov)
2 University of California Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, CA 95064, USA (rank@ucolick.org)

Received 8 November 1999 / Accepted 21 December 1999


Supernovae play a key role in the dynamics, structure, and chemical evolution of galaxies. The massive stars that end their lives as supernovae live for short enough times that many are still associated with dusty star formation regions when they explode, making them difficult to observe at visible wavelengths. In active star forming regions (galactic nuclei and starburst regions), dust extintion is especially severe. Thus, determining the supernova rate in active star forming regions of galaxies, where the supernova rate can be one or two orders of magnitude higher than the average, has proven to be difficult. From observations of SN1987A, we know that the [NiII] 6.63 µm emission line was the strongest line in the infrared spectrum for a period of a year and a half after the explosion. Since dust extintion is much less at 6.63 µm than at visible wavelengths ([FORMULA]/AV = 0.025), the [NiII] line can be used as a sensitive probe for the detection of recent supernovae. We have observed a sample of starburst galaxies at 6.63 µm using ISOCAM to search for the [NiII] emission line characteristic of recent supernovae. We did not detect any [NiII] line emission brighter than a 5[FORMULA] limit of 5 mJy. We can set upper limits to the supernova rate in our sample, scaled to the rate in M82, of less than 0.3 per year at the 90% confidence level using Bayesian methods. Assuming that a supernova would have a [NiII] line with the same luminosity as observed in SN1987A, we find less than 0.09 and 0.15 per year at the 50% and 67% confidence levels. These rates are somewhat less if a more normal type II supernovae has a [NiII] line luminosity greater than the line in SN1987A.

Key words: stars: supernovae: general – galaxies: starburst

© European Southern Observatory (ESO) 2000

Online publication: March 9, 2000