X-Ray-luminous Supernovae: Threats to Terrestrial Biospheres

Ian R. Brunton, Connor O’Mahoney, Brian D. Fields, Adrian L. Melott, Brian C. Thomas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The spectacular outbursts of energy associated with supernovae (SNe) have long motivated research into their potentially hazardous effects on Earth and analogous environments. Much of this research has focused primarily on the atmospheric damage associated with the prompt arrival of ionizing photons within days or months of the initial outburst, and the high-energy cosmic rays that arrive thousands of years after the explosion. In this study, we turn the focus to persistent X-ray emission, arising in certain SNe that have interactions with a dense circumstellar medium and observed months and/or years after the initial outburst. The sustained high X-ray luminosity leads to large doses of ionizing radiation out to formidable distances. We assess the threat posed by these X-ray-luminous SNe for Earth-like planetary atmospheres; our results are rooted in the X-ray SN observations from Chandra, Swift-XRT, XMM-Newton, NuSTAR, and others. We find that this threat is particularly acute for SNe showing evidence of strong circumstellar interaction, such as Type IIn explosions, which have significantly larger ranges of influence than previously expected and lethal consequences up to ∼50 pc away. Furthermore, X-ray-bright SNe could pose a substantial and distinct threat to terrestrial biospheres and tighten the Galactic habitable zone. We urge follow-up X-ray observations of interacting SNe for months and years after the explosion to shed light on the physical nature and full-time evolution of the emission and to clarify the danger that these events pose for life in our galaxy and other star-forming regions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number42
JournalThe Astrophysical journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 20 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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