The Cow: Discovery of a Luminous, Hot, and Rapidly Evolving Transient

S.J. Prentice, K. Maguire, S.J. Smartt, M.R. Magee, P. Schady, S. Sim, T. W. Chen, P. Clark, C. Colin, M. Fulton, O. McBrien, D. O'Neill, K.W. Smith, C. Ashall, K.C. Chambers, L. Denneau, H.A. Flewelling, A. Heinze, T.W.S. Holoien, M.E. HuberC.S. Kochanek, P.A. Mazzali, J.L. Prieto, A. Rest, B.J. Shappee, B. Stalder, K.Z. Stanek, M.D. Stritzinger, T.A. Thompson, J.L. Tonry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

141 Citations (SciVal)


We present the ATLAS discovery and initial analysis of the first 18 days of the unusual transient event, ATLAS18qqn/AT2018cow. It is characterized by a high peak luminosity (∼1.7 × 10 44 erg s -1), rapidly evolving light curves (>5 mag rise to peak in ∼3.5 days), and hot blackbody spectra, peaking at ∼27,000 K that are relatively featureless and unchanging over the first two weeks. The bolometric light curve cannot be powered by radioactive decay under realistic assumptions. The detection of high-energy emission may suggest a central engine as the powering source. Using a magnetar model, we estimated an ejected mass of 0.1-0.4 M , which lies between that of low-energy core-collapse events and the kilonova, AT2017gfo. The spectra cooled rapidly from 27,000 to 15,000 K in just over two weeks but remained smooth and featureless. Broad and shallow emission lines appear after about 20 days, and we tentatively identify them as He i although they would be redshifted from their rest wavelengths. We rule out that there are any features in the spectra due to intermediate mass elements up to and including the Fe group. The presence of r-process elements cannot be ruled out. If these lines are due to He, then we suggest a low-mass star with residual He as a potential progenitor. Alternatively, models of magnetars formed in neutron star mergers, or accretion onto a central compact object, give plausible matches to the data.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberL3
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
Early online date17 Sept 2018
Publication statusPublished - 17 Sept 2018


  • stars: individual (AT2018cow)
  • stars: magnetars
  • stars: neutron
  • supernovae: general

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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