EDP Sciences
Free access
Volume 449, Number 2, April II 2006
Page(s) 711 - 722
Section Stellar atmospheres
DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.1051/0004-6361:20054298
A&A 449, 711-722 (2006)
DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361:20054298

Reduced Wolf-Rayet line luminosities at low metallicity

P. A. Crowther and L. J. Hadfield

Department of Physics & Astronomy, University of Sheffield, Hicks Building, Hounsfield Rd, Sheffield, S3 7RH, UK
    e-mail: Paul.Crowther@sheffield.ac.uk

(Received 3 October 2005 / Accepted 5 December 2005 )

New NTT/EMMI spectrophotometry of single WN2-5 stars in the Small and Large Magellanic Clouds are presented, from which He II $\lambda$4686 line luminosities have been derived, and compared with observations of other Magellanic Cloud Wolf-Rayet stars. SMC WN3-4 stars possess line luminosities which are a factor of 4 times lower than LMC counterparts, incorporating several binary SMC WN3-4 stars from the literature. Similar results are found for WN5-6 stars, despite reduced statistics, incorporating observations of single LMC WN5-9 stars from the literature. C IV $\lambda$5808 line luminosities of carbon sequence WR stars in the SMC and IC 1613 (both WO subtypes) from the recent literature are a factor of 3 lower than LMC WC stars from Mt Stromlo/DBS spectrophotometry, although similar results are also obtained for the sole LMC WO star. We demonstrate how reduced line luminosities at low metallicity follow naturally if WR winds are metallicity-dependent, as recent empirical and theoretical results suggest. We apply mass loss-metallicity scalings to atmospheric non-LTE models of Milky Way and LMC WR stars to predict the wind signatures of WR stars in the metal-poor star forming WR galaxy I Zw 18. WN He II $\lambda$4686 line luminosities are 7-20 times lower than in metal-rich counterparts of identical bolometric luminosity, whilst WC C IV  $\lambda5808$ line luminosities are 3-6 times lower. Significant He+ Lyman continuum fluxes are predicted for metal-poor early-type WR stars. Consequently, our results suggest a larger population of WR stars in I Zw 18 than is presently assumed, particularly for WN stars, potentially posing a severe challenge to evolutionary models at very low metallicity. Finally, reduced wind strengths from WR stars at low metallicities impacts upon the immediate circumstellar environment of long duration GRB afterglows, particularly since the host galaxies of high-redshift GRBs tend to be metal-poor.

Key words: stars: Wolf-Rayet -- galaxies: stellar content -- galaxies: individual: I Zw 18 -- stars: atmospheres

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