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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.
The recent discovery of a gravitational wave from the merging of two black holes of about 30 solar masses each challenges our incomplete understanding of massive stars and their evolution. Critical ingredients comprise mass-loss, rotation, magnetic fields, internal mixing, and mass transfer in close binary systems. The imperfect knowledge of these factors implies large uncertainties for models of stellar populations and their feedback. In this contribution we summarize our empirical studies of Wolf-Rayet populations at different metallicities by means of modern non-LTE stellar atmosphere models, and confront these results with the predictions of stellar evolution models. At the metallicity of our Galaxy, stellar winds are probably too strong to leave remnant masses as high as ~30 M⊙, but given the still poor agreement between evolutionary tracks and observation even this conclusion is debatable. At the low metallicity of the Small Magellanic Cloud, all WN stars which are (at least now) single are consistent with evolving quasi-homogeneously. O and B-type stars, in contrast, seem to comply with standard evolutionary models without strong internal mixing. Close binaries which avoided early merging could evolve quasi-homogeneously and lead to close compact remnants of relatively high masses that merge within a Hubble time.
We present XMM-Newton and Chandra observations of the born-again planetary nebula A 30. These X-ray observations reveal a bright unresolved source at the position of the central star whose X-ray luminosity exceeds by far the model expectations for photospheric emission and for shocks within the stellar wind. We suggest that a “born-again hot bubble” may be responsible for this X-ray emission. Diffuse X-ray emission associated with the petal-like features and one of the H-poor knots seen in the optical is also found. The weakened emission of carbon lines in the spectrum of the diffuse emission can be interpreted as the dilution of stellar wind by mass-loading or as the detection of material ejected during a very late thermal pulse.
X-ray observations of young Planetary Nebulæ (PNe) have revealed diffuse emission in extended regions around both H-rich and H-deficient central stars. In order to also reproduce physical properties of H-deficient objects, we have, at first, extended our time-dependent radiation-hydrodynamic models with heat conduction for such conditions. Here we present some of the important physical concepts, which determine how and when a hot wind-blown bubble forms. In this study we have had to consider the, largely unknown, evolution of the CSPN, the slow (AGB) wind, the fast hot-CSPN wind, and the chemical composition. The main conclusion of our work is that heat conduction is needed to explain X-ray properties of wind-blown bubbles also in H-deficient objects.
According to previous spectral analyses of Wolf-Rayet type central stars, late [WC] subtypes show systematically higher carbon-to-helium abundance ratios than early [WC] subtypes. If this were true, it would rule out that these stars form an evolutionary sequence. However, due to the different parameter domains and diagnostic lines, one might suspect systematic errors being the source of this discrepancy. In an ongoing project we are therefore checking the [WC] analyses by means of the last generation of non-LTE models for expanding stellar atmospheres which account for line-blanketing and wind clumping. So far, the abundance discrepancy is not resolved. Further element abundances (H, N, Fe) are determined and compared with evolutionary predictions.
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