Mass loss: Its effect on the evolution and fate of high-mass stars

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676 Scopus citations


Our understanding of massive star evolution is in flux due to recent upheavals in our view of mass loss and observations of a high binary fraction among O-type stars. Mass-loss rates for standard metallicity-dependent winds of hot stars are lower by a factor of 2-3 compared with rates adopted in modern stellar evolution codes, due to the influence of clumping on observed diagnostics. Weaker hot star winds shift the burden of H-envelope removal to the winds, pulsations, and eruptions of evolved supergiants, as well as binary mass transfer. Studies of stripped-envelope supernovae, in particular, require binary mass transfer. Dramatic examples of eruptive mass loss are seen in Type IIn supernovae, which have massive shells ejected just a few years earlier. These eruptions are a prelude to core collapse, and may signify severe instabilities in the latest nuclear burning phases. We encounter the predicament that the most important modes of mass loss are also the most uncertain, undermining the predictive power of single-star evolution models. Moreover, the influence of winds and rotation has been evaluated by testing single-star models against observed statistics that, it turns out, are heavily influenced by binary evolution. Altogether, this may alter our view about the most basic outcomes of massive-star mass loss are Wolf-Rayet stars and Type Ibc supernovae the products of winds, or are they mostly the result of binary evolution and eruptive mass loss? This is not fully settled, but mounting evidence points toward the latter. This paradigm shift impacts other areas of astronomy, because it changes predictions for ionizing radiation and wind feedback from stellar populations, it may alter conclusions about star-formation rates and initial mass functions, it affects the origin of compact stellar remnants, and it influences how we use supernovae as probes of stellar evolution across cosmic time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)487-528
Number of pages42
JournalAnnual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics
StatePublished - Aug 2014


  • binary stars
  • massive stars
  • stellar evolution
  • stellar winds
  • supernovae
  • variables

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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