This award will support a combined theoretical and observational program to study supernovae, which are the explosive events accompanying the death of massive stars. The particular focus of this project is a new class of hyperluminous supernovae, of which five are known. There are currently several possibilities for the sources of these supernovae, including massive pair-instability supernovae or the interaction of the explosion with a dense circumstellar shell. Dr. Wheeler and his group will develop new techniques to fit models of the evolution of supernova brightness with time in order to learn about mass loss from the progenitor stars. They will also explore Type Ia supernovae with optical spectroscopy and spectropolarimetry in order to understand progenitor evolution, the physics of the explosions, and the use of supernovae for accurate cosmological measurements.
This research is expected to have a broad scientific impact in the areas of stellar evolution, galactic evolution, and cosmology, and will contribute to the Nation's scientific future by integrating research and education by training graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. Dr. Wheeler will also continue his efforts to communicate scientific results to the public.