SPIRITS: Uncovering Unusual Infrared Transients with Spitzer

Mansi M. Kasliwal, John Bally, Frank Masci, Ann Marie Cody, Howard E. Bond, Jacob E. Jencson, Samaporn Tinyanont, Yi Cao, Carlos Contreras, Devin A. Dykhoff, Samuel Amodeo, Lee Armus, Martha Boyer, Matteo Cantiello, Robert L. Carlon, Alexander C. Cass, David Cook, David T. Corgan, Joseph Faella, Ori D. FoxWayne Green, R. D. Gehrz, George Helou, Eric Hsiao, Joel Johansson, Rubab M. Khan, Ryan M. Lau, Norbert Langer, Emily Levesque, Peter Milne, Shazrene Mohamed, Nidia Morrell, Andy Monson, Anna Moore, Eran O. Ofek, Donal O. Sullivan, Mudumba Parthasarathy, Andres Perez, Daniel A. Perley, Mark Phillips, Thomas A. Prince, Dinesh Shenoy, Nathan Smith, Jason Surace, Schuyler D.Van Dyk, Patricia A. Whitelock, Robert Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


We present an ongoing, five-year systematic search for extragalactic infrared transients, dubbed SPIRITS - SPitzer InfraRed Intensive Transients Survey. In the first year, using Spitzer/IRAC, we searched 190 nearby galaxies with cadence baselines of one month and six months. We discovered over 1958 variables and 43 transients. Here, we describe the survey design and highlight 14 unusual infrared transients with no optical counterparts to deep limits, which we refer to as SPRITEs (eSPecially Red Intermediate-luminosity Transient Events). SPRITEs are in the infrared luminosity gap between novae and supernovae, with [4.5] absolute magnitudes between -11 and -14 (Vega-mag) and [3.6]-[4.5] colors between 0.3 mag and 1.6 mag. The photometric evolution of SPRITEs is diverse, ranging from <0.1 mag yr-1 to >7 mag yr-1. SPRITEs occur in star-forming galaxies. We present an in-depth study of one of them, SPIRITS 14ajc in Messier 83, which shows shock-excited molecular hydrogen emission. This shock may have been triggered by the dynamic decay of a non-hierarchical system of massive stars that led to either the formation of a binary or a protostellar merger.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number88
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 20 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
J.J. acknowledges the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship under Grant No. DGE-1144469. P.A.W. and S.M. are grateful to the South African National Research Foundation (NRF) for a research grant. R.D.G. and the MLOF group were supported, in part, by the United States Air Force. H.E.B. acknowledges support by NASA through grant GO-13935 from the Space Telescope Science Institute, which is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., under NASA contract NAS5-26555.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017. The American Astronomical Society. All rights reserved..


  • infrared: general
  • novae, cataclysmic variables
  • stars: AGB and post-AGB
  • stars: mass-loss
  • supernovae: general
  • surveys

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