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Monthly Notices Of The Royal Astronomical Society


We present a new method for using measured X-ray emission line fluxes from O stars to determine the shock-heating rate due to instabilities in their radiation-driven winds. The high densities of these winds means that their embedded shocks quickly cool by local radiative emission, while cooling by expansion should be negligible. Ignoring for simplicity any non-radiative mixing or conductive cooling, the method presented here exploits the idea that the cooling post-shock plasma systematically passes through the temperature characteristic of distinct emission lines in the X-ray spectrum. In this way, the observed flux distribution among these X-ray lines can be used to construct the cumulative probability distribution of shock strengths that a typical wind parcel encounters as it advects through the wind. We apply this new method to Chandra grating spectra from five O stars with X-ray emission indicative of embedded wind shocks in effectively single massive stars. The results for all the stars are quite similar: the average wind mass element passes through roughly one shock that heats it to at least 106 K as it advects through the wind, and the cumulative distribution of shock strengths is a strongly decreasing function of temperature, consistent with a negative power law of index n ≈ 3, implying a marginal distribution of shock strengths that scales as T−4, and with hints of an even steeper decline or cut-off above 107 K.


hydrodynamics, line: profiles, shock waves, stars: massive, stars: winds, outflows, X-rays: stars


This article has been published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. © 2014 The Authors. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Royal Astronomical Society. All rights reserved.