Understanding structure in line-driven stellar winds using ultraviolet spectropolarimetry in the time domain

Kenneth G. Gayley, Jorick S. Vink, Asif ud-Doula, Alexandre David-Uraz, Richard Ignace, Raman Prinja, Nicole St-Louis, Sylvia Ekström, Yaël Nazé, Tomer Shenar, Paul A. Scowen, Natallia Sudnik, Stan P. Owocki, Jon O. Sundqvist, Florian A. Driessen, Levin Hennicker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


The most massive stars are thought to lose a significant fraction of their mass in a steady wind during the main-sequence and blue supergiant phases. This in turn sets the stage for their further evolution and eventual supernova, and preconditions the surrounding medium for all following events, with consequences for ISM energization, chemical enrichment, and dust formation. Understanding these processes requires accurate observational constraints on the mass-loss rates of the most luminous stars, which can also be used to test theories of stellar wind driving. In the past, mass-loss rates have been characterized via collisional emission processes such as optical Hα and free-free radio emission, but these so-called “density squared” diagnostics require correction in the presence of widespread clumping. Recent observational and theoretical evidence points to the likelihood of a ubiquitously high level of such clumping in hot-star winds, but quantifying its effects requires a deeper understanding of the complex dynamics of radiatively driven winds and their stochastic instabilities. Furthermore, large-scale structures initiating in surface anisotropies and propagating throughout the wind can also affect wind driving and alter mass-loss diagnostics. Time series spectroscopy of high resonance-line opacity in the UV, capable of high resolution and high signal-to-noise, are required to better understand these complex dynamics, and more accurately determine mass-loss rates. The proposed Polstar mission (Scowen et al. 2022, this volume) provides the necessary resolution at the Sobolev (∼10 km s−1) or sound-speed (∼20 km s−1) scale, for over three dozen bright galactic massive stars with signal-to noise an order of magnitude above that of the celebrated MEGA campaign (Massa et al. 1995) of the International Ultraviolet Explorer (IUE), via continuous observations that track propagating structures through the winds in real time. Supporting geometric constraints are provided by the polarimetric capabilities present in all the datasets of such a mission.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number123
JournalAstrophysics and Space Science
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Understanding structure in line-driven stellar winds using ultraviolet spectropolarimetry in the time domain'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this