HETH science

Our main interest is the study of (massive) stellar explosions, their environments and hosts.

Christmas Burst

Gamma-ray burstsStrange GRBs and GRB-supernovae

Gamma-ray bursts are some of the most luminous explosions in the Universe. They are divided in long and short GRBs possibly reflecting two different progenitor types (death of a massive star vs. coalescence of two compact objects). Despite two decades of afterglow observations many mysteries still remain. HETH has designated ToO programs at different telescopes to follow GRB afterglows (e.g. GTC, OSN, ALMA and PdB). HETH people are also member of the European X-shooter collaboration on GRBs.

At HETH we study GRBs across all wavelengths from X-ray to radio. We focus on peculiar events such as the famous "Christmas Burst", GRB 101225A. The afterglow of this peculiar GRB showed mostly thermal emission in contrast to the usual power-law behaviour and we interpreted it as a merger system where, in the final GRB, the jet interacted with a thick shell ejected some years before the GRB.

Along with their prompt emission powered by jets, GRBs also produce a special kind of supernova explosions, called "broad-lined type Ic". These stellar explosions contain neither hydrogen nor helium, and the ejecta expands at very high speeds, typically 10% of light speed. Recently, a link has also been established between GRBs and superluminous SNe for GRB 111209A/SN 2011kl (see also Kann et al. 2016). At HETH we have a dedicated observing program to follow-up these SNe with the GTC.


SupernovaeExtreme events and outliers

Supernovae come in many different flavours and most (except SNe Ia) are related to the death of a more or less massive star. At HETH we are predominantly interested in SNe IIn (narrow lines from interaction with circumstellar material), superluminous supernovae and broad-line SNe Ic. HETH has several ongoing observing programs at GTC, OSN and CAHA.

Once again, we like the odd and exceptional events such as the impostor/SN IIn SN 2015bh, a possible analogue of SN 2009ip. This possible SN showed a series of outbursts varying by about 2 mag over at least 21 years and at a position in the HR diagram similar to the events of Eta Carina, albeit at lower luminosities. In 2015 it experienced first a larger "precursor" and then the more luminous "main event" whose lightcurve resembled a normal SN IIn but with a total luminosity on the edge of a real core-collapse event. The spectra clearly showed the traces of previous larger ejections of material. The late time behaviour of this event and SN 2009ip let us speculate that the star might not have exploded but is on the way to become a Wolf-Rayet star after shedding its outer envelope.

Press release on SN 2015bh


Hosts GRBs hosts near and far, SN hosts and explosion sites

Thanks to their high luminosity, GRBs can be used as lighthouses to study the ISM in their host galaxies up to very high redshifts. The ISM imprints absorption lines onto the smooth afterglow continuum. Medium to high resolution spectra are especially suited for this purpose: Study the kinematics of the ISM by identifying several components, observe line variability to infer distances (usually fine-structure lines, but also varying HI asbsorpion has been observed in Thöne et al. 2011), study the chemical abundances and trace the metallicity evolution and infer extinction properties in the line-of-sight. Within the European X-shooter collaboration, HETH members are working on various sample papers using more than 70 spectra collected by X-shooter since 2009.

Furthermore, at HETH we study host properties by observing them directly in emission. GRB hosts are thought to be a population of young, blue and star-forming galaxies, often subluminous, in particular at low redshift while SLSN hosts are probably even more extreme galaxies (see e.g. Thöne et al. 2015). HETH people are members of the SHOALS and SUSHIES (SLSN host galaxies) collaborations to study GRB and SLSN hosts.

Another main interest of HETH is the detailed study of nearby GRB and SN environment using IFU spectroscopy and other resolved techniques such as narrow-band tuneable filters (at OSIRIS/GTC). The hosts of GRB 060505 (Thöne et al. 2015) and GRB 100316D (Izzo et al. 2017) are two out of only three GRB hosts so far studied with 3D spectra and we are part of several collaborations to study a larger sample of hosts with resolved techniques.


NovaeNovae as lithium farms, Nova shells in 3D

The progenitors of classical novae are white dwarfs in tight binary systems which accrete matter from a companion star and gas piles up on its surface. Once the pressure and temperature at the base of the layer reaches a critical value, thermonuclear reactions ignite the gas. Novae have been observed for over 100 years, but new instruments are revealing important details behind the emisson mechanisms as well as the geometry of the ejecta.

High-resolution spectrograph lead to the discovery of lithium during the early nova phase (Izzo et al. 2015) This has important consequences for the chemical enrichment of Li in the Galaxy: observations of young stellar populations show an over-abundance of Li in their spectra, whose origin is still unclear. The detection of Li and Be in V5668 Sgr (Molaro et al. 2016) which decays into lithium after 56 days, suggests that classical novae represent the main farms of lithium in the Galaxy.
We furthermore use IFU data to study the asphericity and kinematics in nova shells, i.e. at very late phases. The match with archival data from ESO-VLT and the Hubble Space Telescope, as well as the use of incoming GAIA data, is funamental to study a reliable use of novae as local distance indicators and as possible progenitors of Supernovae Ia.

Press release on novae as Li factories


Cosmology Cosmology with SNe and GRBs

GRB-SNe have a luminosity-stretch relationship (Cano et al. 2014) that is analogous to the luminosity-decline relationship measured for SNe Ia. The latter has been succesfully used to demonstrate the existance of Dark Energy, which culminated in being awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2011. While the field of GRB-SN-cosmology is still in its infancy, it has already been demonstrated that GRB-SN can also be used to constrain the Hubble constant (Cano, Jakobsson & Geirsson 2014) and the mass and energy density of the cosmos (Li, Hjorth & Wojtak 2014) . Additional studies are ongoing to reduce the amount of scatter in Hubble diagrams of GRB-SN and enhance their role as cosmological probes.

Using SNe Ia for cosmology is currently limited to redshifts around z~1.5-2, hence we have little information about the era when the first starts and galaxies formed and the initial large-scale structures begun to cluster. GRBs are a unique probe for this "dark" era since they have been observed out to redshifts of nearly 10 (the current record is GRB 090429B at z = 9.4).
At HETH we study how to use GRBs as distance indicators up to these high redshifts. Recently a correlation has been proposed (Izzo et al. 2015), that has a tight data scatter and intrinsically links prompt and afterglow quantities. The study of large datasets of GRB, coupled with advanced analysis techniques, will allow us to measure accurately the evolution history at very large redshifts and obtain information about the nature of the Dark Energy.


GRBspec A public database for GRB afterglow spectra

GRBspec is a database that collects spectroscopy of gamma-ray burst, afterglows, their associated supernovae and their host galaxies. It includes GRB information (duration, energetics, redshifts, etc.), the spectroscopic data, such as 1D and 2D data with their associated error frames, and the associated measurements to the spectra (equivalent widths, column densities, or line fluxes). GRBspec is currently the largest database of its kind in the world and it keeps growing through the work of HETH and the contribution of other scientists from around the world.

Link to GRBspec

The project is supported by a 2016 BBVA Foundation Grant for Researchers and Cultural Creators.


Instrumentation Leadership of OCTOCAM

In HETH we know that many of the advances in research come hand in hand with technological developments. Currently, HETH is leading the development of OCTOCAM and participates in the science teams of HiPERCAM at the 10.4m GTC (La Palma, Spain), and SOXS at the 3.6m NTT (La Silla, Chile).

OCTOCAM will be the next facility instrument of the 8.1m Gemini South telescope, in Chile. It is an 8-channel imager and spectrograph, simultaneously imaging a field of view of 3’x3’ in g'r'i'z'YJH and K bands, or obtaining long slit spectroscopy with R=4000 between 3700 and 23500 Å. State-of-the-art detectors allow observations with high time resolution, opening a window in the wavelength range - spectral resolution - temporal resolution diagram not covered by any other instrument until now. Its main science goal is the study of transients and is specifically thought as LSST follow-up instrument. This and multiple other science cases will make it a real workhorse instrument of Gemini in the 2020s.
OCTOCAM is lead by the HETH group: Antonio de Ugarte Postigo as PI and Christina Thöne as PM in Spain. The project is done in collaboration with Southwest Research Institute (SwRI, Texas, U.S.A.), George Washington University (GWU, Washington D.C., U.S.A.) and FRACTAL S.L.N.E. (Madrid, Spain). Kick-off was on April 19, 2017 at IAA.

OCTOCAM is funded by the American National Science Foundation (NSF) under the Cooperative Agreement No. AST-1637494 and has a total budget of 15 MUSD

OCTOCAM at Gemini webpage
Gemini press release , IAA press release

HETH People

HETH was founded in 2012 and is not only a young group but is also composed of young researchers.


HETH in June 2017

  • Christina Thöne, Ramón y Cajal fellow, group leader   (cthoene at iaa.es)
  • Antonio de Ugarte Postigo, Ramón y Cajal fellow, co-PI   (deugarte at iaa.es)   personal HP
  • Luca Izzo, postdoc   (izzo at iaa.es)   personal HP
  • Zach Cano, Juan de la Cierva fellow   (zcano at iaa.es)  personal HP
  • Alexander Kann, Juan de la Cierva fellow   (kann at iaa.es)
  • Rubén Sánchez-Ramírez, postdoc   (ruben at iaa.es)
  • Kasia Bensch, PhD student   (kasia at iaa.es)
  • Ana Sagues Carracedo, Master student

  • In memoriam Javier Gorosabel (27.10.1969 - 21.4.2015)


Recent publications and highlights. A full publication list can be found in this ADS repository

  • GRB 161219B / SN 2016jca: A low-redshift gamma-ray burst supernova powered by radioactive heating
    Cano, Z.; Izzo, L.; de Ugarte Postigo, A.; Thoene, C. C.; Kruehler, T. et al. (coauthors Kann, D. A.; Sánchez-Ramírez, R.) A&A submitted, arXiv:1704.05401
  • The MUSE view of the host galaxy of GRB 100316D
    Izzo, L., Thöne, C., Schulze S. et al. MNRAS subm, arXiv 1704.05509
  • SN 2015bh: NGC 2770's 4th supernova or a luminous blue variable on its way to a Wolf-Rayet star?
    Thöne, C. C.; de Ugarte Postigo, A.; Leloudas, G., Gall, C.; Cano, Z. et al., 2017, A&A 599, A129
  • GRB 110715A: the peculiar multiwavelength evolution of the first afterglow detected by ALMA
    Sánchez-Ramírez, R.; Hancock, P. J.; Jóhannesson, G. et al. (coauthors de Ugarte Postigo, A., Thöne, C. C., Gorosabel, J.), 2017, MNRAS, 464, Issue, 4624
  • The superluminous transient ASASSN-15lh as a tidal disruption event from a Kerr black hole
    Leloudas, G., Frazer, M., Stone, N. C. et al. (coauthor de Ugarte Postigo, A), 2016, NatAs 1, id. 0002
  • Cosmic evolution and metal aversion in super-luminous supernova host galaxies
    Schulze, S., Krühler, T., Leloudas, G. et al. (coauthors de Ugarte Postigo, A., Thöne, C.), arXiv:1612.05978
  • Highly enriched 7Be in the ejecta of Nova Sagittarii 2015 No. 2 (V5668 Sgr) and the Galactic 7Li origin
    Molaro, P.; Izzo, L.; Mason, E.; Bonifacio, P.; Della Valle, M. MNRAS 462, L117
  • Science with OCTOCAM: a new workhorse instrument proposed for Gemini
    Thöne, C. C., de Ugarte Postigo, A., van der Horst, A., Roming, P., 2016, Proceedings of the SPIE, Volume 9908, id. 990843
  • OCTOCAM: a fast multi-channel imager and spectrograph proposed for the Gemini Observatory
    de Ugarte Postigo, A.; Roming, P.; Thöne, C. C.; van der Horst, A. J.; Pope, S.; García Vargas, M. L.; Sánchez-Blanco, E.; Maldonado Medina, M.; Content, R.; Snik, F.; Killough, R.; Winters, G.; Persson, K.; Jeffers, S.; Riva, A.; Bianco, A.; Zanutta, A., 2016, Proceedings of the SPIE, Volume 9908, id. 990840
  • The Observer's Guide to the Gamma-Ray Burst-Supernova Connection
    Cano, Z., Wang, S.-Q., Dai, Z.-G., & Wu, X.-F. 2017, Advances in Astronomy, 2017, 8929054
  • A self-consistent analytical magnetar model: the luminosity of γ-ray burst supernovae is powered by radioactivity
    Cano, Z., Johansson A. K. G., Maeda, K., 2016, MNRAS, 457, 2761
  • A young stellar environment for the superluminous supernova PTF12dam
    Thöne, C.C., de Ugarte Postigo, A., García-Benito, R., et al. 2015, MNRAS, 451, L6
  • The host of the SN-less GRB 060505 in high resolution
    Thöne, C. C.; Christensen, L.; Prochaska, J. X.; Bloom, J. S.; Gorosabel, J.; Fynbo, J. P. U.; Jakobsson, P.; Fruchter, A. S., 2014, MNRAS, 441, 2034
  • Spectroscopy of the short-hard GRB 130603B. The host galaxy and environment of a compact object merger
    de Ugarte Postigo, A., Thöne, C.~C., Rowlinson, A., et al. 2014, A&A,, 563, A62
  • The unusual γ-ray burst GRB 101225A from a helium star/neutron star merger at redshift 0.33
    Thöne, C. C.; de Ugarte Postigo, A.; Fryer, C. L. et al. 2011, Nature, 480, 72

Jobs at HETH

Currently we have no open positions at HETH. However, we are always looking for new people.
In the following we list possible funding sources for postdocs and students:

  • Marie Curie individual fellowships (postdoc)
    Call published in April each year with deadline in mid September
    No restrictions on the time since the PhD, but a defended PhD or at least 4 years of research are required. A strict criterium is mobility, which means the applicant cannot have resided in the applying country for more than 12 months in the last 36 months prior to the deadline. MC-IFs are highly competitive and granted based an innovative research proposal and that should be made in strong collaboration with the hosting group. There are two modalities: incoming fellowships (2 years at a European institute) and outgoing fellowships (2 years outside Europe + 1 year at a European host). Salaries in Spain are around 3800 EUR and research money of 800 EUR/month are included. Since applications are also based on the achievements and training capabilities of the hosting group, we strongly urge interested applications to contact us early on in order to set up a competitive proposal.
    We are currently searching for suitable candidates for the next deadline in September, if you are interested, please contact us as soon as possible.
  • Juan de la Cierva fellowships (postdoc)
    Call published in Oct/Nov. each year with deadline in Jan/Feb.
    Two modalities: one for early postdocs ("formación", 1-3 years after the PhD, PhD defended typically a few months before the deadline) and one for advanced ("incorporación" 3-5 years after PhD) postdocs. Both fellowships are for 2 years and postdocs being granted the starting fellowship can apply for the advance one so that they follow one after the other.
    Current evaluations are based purly on the CV of the applicant and the merits of the group. Salary is around 1450 EUR after taxes in 14 payments. A research grant of 3k EUR p.a. is included.
    Please contact the PIs if you want to apply as they have to be done jointly by the applicant and the group.
  • Ramon y Cajal fellowships (postdoc)
    Call published in late fall with deadline in Jan/Feb. For advanced postdocs that aim for a permanent position in Spain, application max. 9 years after the PhD (delays for childcare times apply). RyC fellowships are for 5 years and come with 10k EUR p.a. of research funding (for the first 4 years). RyC fellows are entitled to ask for additional funding through national Spanish grants. Salaries currently are around 1800 EUR in 14 payments.
    RyC fellowships are applicant based, but due to necessary co-funding through the hosting institute, please contact us before applying if you consider coming to HETH/IAA.
  • FPU fellowships (PhD students)
    Spanish individual fellowships for doing a PhD in Spain.
    Application deadline around late March. Applicants are required to be enrolled in a master program at very specific dates. Evaluations are in two stages, the first downselection is based purely on university grades after which there is another downselection on project and advisor merits. Funding is provided for 4 years on a standard employment contract including all benefits. Salaries are currently about 900 EUR/month in 14 payments. The applicant can apply for extra funding for visits of 3-5 months at institutes outside Spain.
    If you consider applying to our group, please contact us. Note that applications are not always straighforward for Master students at non-Spanish universities and most of the application has to be done in Spanish.
  • External funding
    We also welcome scientists that come with their own funding from abroad. Whether it is a fully funded PhD or postdoc or you want to stay for a few months working in one of our science areas, please contact the PIs of the group.

HETH is supported by the following funding:

  • Spanish National Research Grant of Excellence under project AYA 2014-58381-P
  • OCTOCAM contract by AURA funded by the American National Science Foundation (NSF) under the Cooperative Agreement No. AST-1637494
  • Ramón y Cajál fellowships and research funding under contracts RyC-2012-09984 and RyC-2012-09975
  • Juan de la Cierva Incorporación fellowships and research funding IJCI-2014-21669 and IJCI-2015-26153
  • 2016 BBVA Foundation Grant for Researchers and Cultural Creators