Classical Wolf-Rayet (WR) stars mark an important stage in the late evolution of massive stars. As hydrogen-poor massive stars, these objects have lost their outer layers, while still losing further mass through strong winds indicated by their prominent emission line spectra. Wolf-Rayet stars have been detected in a variety of different galaxies. Their strong winds are a major ingredient of stellar evolution and population synthesis models. Yet, a coherent theoretical picture of their strong mass-loss is only starting to emerge. In particular, the occurrence of WR stars as a function of metallicity (Z) is still far from being understood.
To uncover the nature of the complex and dense winds of Wolf-Rayet stars, we employ a new generation of model atmospheres including a consistent solution of the wind hydrodynamics in an expanding non-LTE situation. With this technique, we can dissect the ingredients driving the wind and predict the resulting mass-loss for hydrogen-depleted massive stars. Our modelling efforts reveal a complex picture with strong, non-linear dependencies on the luminosity-to-mass ratio and Z with a steep, but not totally abrupt onset for WR-type winds in helium stars. With our findings, we provide a theoretical motivation for a population of helium stars at low Z, which cannot be detected via WR-type spectral features. Our study of massive He-star atmosphere models yields the very first mass-loss recipe derived from first principles in this regime. Implementing our first findings in stellar evolution models, we demonstrate how traditional approaches tend to overpredict WR-type mass loss in the young Universe.