• radiative transfer;
  • techniques: spectroscopic;
  • supernovae: general;
  • supernovae: individual: SN 2008ax;
  • supernovae: individual: SN 1994I


H and He features in photospheric spectra have seldom been used to infer quantitatively the properties of Type IIb, Ib and Ic supernovae (SNe IIb, Ib and Ic) and their progenitor stars. Most radiative transfer models ignored non-local thermodynamic equilibrium (NLTE) effects, which are extremely strong especially in the He-dominated zones. In this paper, a comprehensive set of model atmospheres for low-mass SNe IIb/Ib/Ic is presented. Long-standing questions, such as how much He can be contained in SNe Ic, where He lines are not seen, can thus be addressed. The state of H and He is computed in full NLTE, including the effect of heating by fast electrons. The models are constructed to represent iso-energetic explosions of the same stellar core with differently massive H/He envelopes on top. The synthetic spectra suggest that 0.06–0.14 M of He and even smaller amounts of H suffice for optical lines to be present, unless ejecta asymmetries play a major role. This strongly supports the conjecture that low-mass SNe Ic originate from binaries where progenitor mass loss can be extremely efficient.