February 2015 • 2015MNRAS.447.1922M
Abstract • We present observations of SN Hunt 248, a new supernova (SN) impostor in NGC 5806, which began a multistage outburst in 2014 May. The `2014a' discovery brightening exhibited an absolute magnitude of M ≈ -12 and the spectral characteristics of a cool, dense outflow, including P Cygni lines of Fe II, H I, and Na I, and line blanketing from metals. The source rapidly climbed and peaked at M ≈ -15 mag after two additional weeks. During this bright `2014b' phase the spectrum became dominated by Balmer emission and a stronger blue continuum, similar to the SN impostor SN 1997bs. Archival images from the Hubble Space Telescope between 1997 and 2005 reveal a luminous (4 × 105 L⊙) variable precursor star. Its location on the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram is consistent with a massive (Minit ≈ 30 M⊙) cool hypergiant having an extremely dense wind and an Eddington ratio (Γ) just below unity. At the onset of the 2014a brightening, however, the object was super-Eddington (Γ = 4-12). The subsequent boost in luminosity during the 2014b phase probably resulted from circumstellar interaction. SN Hunt 248 provides the first case of a cool hypergiant undergoing a giant eruption reminiscent of outbursts from luminous blue variable stars (LBVs). This lends support to the hypothesis that some cool hypergiants, such as ρ Cas, could be LBVs masquerading under a pseudo-photosphere created by their extremely dense winds. Moreover, SN Hunt 248 demonstrates that eruptions stemming from such stars can rival in peak luminosity the giant outbursts of much more massive systems like η Car.