EDP Sciences
Free access
Volume 482, Number 3, May II 2008
Page(s) 945 - 960
Section Stellar atmospheres
DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.1051/0004-6361:20066176
Published online 11 March 2008

A&A 482, 945-960 (2008)
DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361:20066176

Mass loss from late-type WN stars and its Z-dependence

Very massive stars approaching the Eddington limit
G. Gräfener and W.-R. Hamann

Institut für Physik, Universität Potsdam, Am Neuen Palais 10, 14469 Potsdam, Germany
    e-mail: goetz@astro.physik.uni-potsdam.de

(Received 3 August 2006 / Accepted 1 February 2008)

Context. The mass loss from Wolf-Rayet (WR) stars is of fundamental importance for the final fate of massive stars and their chemical yields. Its Z-dependence is discussed in relation to the formation of long-duration Gamma Ray Bursts (GRBs) and the yields from early stellar generations. However, the mechanism of formation of WR-type stellar winds is still under debate.
Aims. We present the first fully self-consistent atmosphere/wind models for late-type WN stars. We investigate the mechanisms leading to their strong mass loss, and examine the dependence on stellar parameters, in particular on the metallicity Z.
Methods. We perform a systematic parameter study of the mass loss from WNL stars, utilizing a new generation of hydrodynamic non-LTE model atmospheres. The models include a self-consistent treatment of the wind hydrodynamics, and take Fe-group line-blanketing and clumping into account. They thus allow a realistic modelling of the expanding atmospheres of WR stars. The results are verified by comparison with observed WNL spectra.
Results. We identify WNL stars as very massive stars close to the Eddington limit, potentially still in the phase of central H-burning. Due to their high L/M ratios, these stars develop optically thick, radiatively driven winds. These winds show qualitatively different properties than the thin winds of OB stars. The resultant mass loss depends strongly on Z, but also on the Eddington factor $\Gamma_{\rm e}$, and the stellar temperature $T_\star$. We combine our results in a parametrized mass loss recipe for WNL stars.
Conclusions. According to our present model computations, stars close to the Eddington limit tend to form strong WR-type winds, even at very low Z. Our models thus predict an efficient mass loss mechanism for low metallicity stars. For extremely metal-poor stars, we find that the self-enrichment with primary nitrogen can drive WR-type mass loss. These first WN stars might play an important role in the enrichment of the early ISM with freshly produced nitrogen.

Key words: stars: Wolf-Rayet -- stars: early-type -- stars: atmospheres -- stars: mass-loss -- stars: winds, outflows -- stars: individual: WR 22

© ESO 2008