The temporal evolution of the optical spectra of various types of supernovae (SNe) is illustrated, in part to aid observers classifying supernova candidates. Type II SNe are defined by the presence of hydrogen, and they exhibit a very wide variety of photometric and spectroscopic properties. Among hydrogen-deficient SNe (Type I), three subclasses are now known: those whose early-time spectra show strong Si II (Ia), prominent He I (Ib), or neither Si II nor He I (Ic). The late-time spectra of SNe Ia consist of a multitude of blended emission lines of iron-group elements; in sharp contrast, those of SNe Ib and SNe Ic (which are similar to each other) are dominated by several relatively unblended lines of intermediate-mass elements. Although SNe Ia, which result from the thermonuclear runaway of white dwarfs, constitute a rather homogeneous subclass, important variations in their photometric and spectroscopic properties are undeniably present. SNe Ib/Ic probably result from core collapse in massive stars largely stripped of their hydrogen (Ib) and helium (Ic) envelopes, and hence they are physically related to SNe II. Indeed, the progenitors of some SNe II seem to have only a low-mass skin of hydrogen; their spectra gradually evolve to resemble those of SNe Ib. In addition to the two well-known photometric subclasses (linear and plateau) of SNe II, which may exhibit minor spectroscopic differences, there is a new subclass (SNe IIn) distinguished by relatively narrow emission lines with little or no P Cygni absorption component and slowly declining light curves. These objects probably have unusually dense circumstellar gas with which the ejecta interact.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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