• supernovae: general;
  • supernovae: individual: SN 2009dc;
  • supernovae: individual: SN 2007if;
  • supernovae: individual: SN 2003fg;
  • supernovae: individual: SN 2006gz


In this paper, we present and analyse optical photometry and spectra of the extremely luminous and slowly evolving Type Ia supernova (SN Ia) 2009dc, and offer evidence that it is a super-Chandrasekhar mass (SC) SN Ia and thus has a SC white dwarf (WD) progenitor. Optical spectra of SN 2007if, a similar object, are also shown. SN 2009dc had one of the most slowly evolving light curves ever observed for a SN Ia, with a rise time of 23 d and Δm15(B) = 0.72 mag. We calculate a lower limit to the peak bolometric luminosity of ∼2.4 × 1043 erg s−1, though the actual value is likely almost 40 per cent larger. Optical spectra of SN 2009dc and SN 2007if obtained near maximum brightness exhibit strong C ii features (indicative of a significant amount of unburned material), and the post-maximum spectra are dominated by iron-group elements (IGEs). All of our spectra of SN 2009dc and SN 2007if also show low expansion velocities. However, we see no strong evidence in SN 2009dc for a velocity ‘plateau’ near maximum light like the one seen in SN 2007if. The high luminosity and low expansion velocities of SN 2009dc lead us to derive a possible WD progenitor mass of more than 2 M and a 56Ni mass of about 1.4–1.7 M. We propose that the host galaxy of SN 2009dc underwent a gravitational interaction with a neighbouring galaxy in the relatively recent past. This may have led to a sudden burst of star formation which could have produced the SC WD progenitor of SN 2009dc and likely turned the neighbouring galaxy into a ‘post-starburst galaxy’. No published model seems to match the extreme values observed in SN 2009dc, but simulations do show that such massive progenitors can exist (likely as a result of the merger of two WDs) and can possibly explode as SC SNe Ia.