April 2017 • 2017ApJ...839...88K
Abstract • We present an ongoing, five-year systematic search for extragalactic infrared transients, dubbed SPIRITS—SPitzer InfraRed Intensive Transients Survey. In the first year, using Spitzer/IRAC, we searched 190 nearby galaxies with cadence baselines of one month and six months. We discovered over 1958 variables and 43 transients. Here, we describe the survey design and highlight 14 unusual infrared transients with no optical counterparts to deep limits, which we refer to as SPRITEs (eSPecially Red Intermediate-luminosity Transient Events). SPRITEs are in the infrared luminosity gap between novae and supernovae, with [4.5] absolute magnitudes between -11 and -14 (Vega-mag) and [3.6]-[4.5] colors between 0.3 mag and 1.6 mag. The photometric evolution of SPRITEs is diverse, ranging from <0.1 mag yr-1 to >7 mag yr-1. SPRITEs occur in star-forming galaxies. We present an in-depth study of one of them, SPIRITS 14ajc in Messier 83, which shows shock-excited molecular hydrogen emission. This shock may have been triggered by the dynamic decay of a non-hierarchical system of massive stars that led to either the formation of a binary or a protostellar merger.