(abridged) The strong winds of Wolf-Rayet (WR) stars are important for the mechanical and chemical feedback of the most massive stars and determine whether they end their lives as neutron stars or black holes. In this work we investigate theoretically the mass-loss properties of H-free WR stars of the nitrogen sequence (WN stars). We connect stellar structure models for He stars with wind models for optically-thick winds and assess how both types of models can simultaneously fulfill their respective sonic-point conditions. Fixing the outer wind law and terminal wind velocity, we obtain unique solutions for the mass-loss rates of optically-thick, radiatively-driven winds of WR stars in the phase of core He-burning. The resulting mass-loss relations as a function of stellar parameters, agree well with previous empirical relations. Furthermore, we encounter stellar mass limits below which no continuous solutions exist. While these mass limits agree with observations of WR stars in the Galaxy, they are in conflict with observations in the LMC. While our results confirm in particular the slope of oft-used empirical mass-loss relations, they imply that only part of the observed WN population can be understood in the framework of the standard assumptions of a smooth transonic flow and compact stellar core. This means that alternative approaches, such as a clumped and inflated wind structure, or deviations from the diffusion limit at the sonic point may have to be invoked. Qualitatively, the existence of mass limits for the formation of WR-type winds may be relevant for the non-detection of low-mass WR stars in binary systems, which are believed to be progenitors of Type Ib/c supernovae. The sonic-point conditions derived in this work may provide a possibility to include optically-thick winds in stellar evolution models in a more physically motivated form than in current models.
G. Grafener, S. Owocki, L. Grassitelli, et. al.
Fri, 13 Oct 17
Comments: accepted by Astronomy & Astrophysics