On the Winds of Carbon Stars and the Origin of Carbon A Theoretical Study

University dissertation from Uppsala : Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis

Abstract: Carbon is the basis for life, as we know it, but its origin is still largely unclear. Carbon-rich Asymptotic Giant Branch (AGB) stars (carbon stars) play an important rôle in the cosmic matter cycle and may contribute most of the carbon in the Galaxy.In this thesis it is explored how the dust-driven mass loss of these stars depends on the basic stellar parameters by computing a large grid of wind models. The existence of a critical wind regime and mass-loss thresholds for dust-driven winds are confirmed. Furthermore, a steep dependence of mass loss on carbon excess is found. Exploratory work on the effects of different stellar metallicities and the sizes of dust grains shows that strong dust-driven winds develop also at moderately low metallicities, and that typical sizes of dust grains affect the wind properties near a mass-loss threshold.It is demonstrated that the mass-loss rates obtained with the wind models have dramatic consequences when used in models of carbon-star evolution. A pronounced superwind develops soon after the star becomes carbon rich, and it therefore experiences only a few thermal pulses as a carbon star before the envelope is lost. The number of dredge-up events and the thermal pulses is limited by a self-regulating mechanism: each thermal pulse dredges up carbon, which increases the carbon excess and hence also the mass-loss rate. In turn, this limits the number of thermal pulses.The mass-loss evolution during a thermal pulse (He-shell flash) is considered as an explanation of the observations of so-called detached shells around carbon stars. By combining models of dust-driven winds with a stellar evolution model, and a simple hydrodynamic model of the circumstellar envelope, it is shown that wind properties change character during a He-shell flash such that a thin detached gas shell can form by wind-wind interaction.Finally, it is suggested that carbon stars are responsible for much of the carbon in the interstellar medium, but a scenario where high-mass stars are major carbon producers cannot be excluded. In either case, however, the carbon abundances of the outer Galactic disc are relatively low, and most of the carbon has been released quite recently. Thus, there may neither be enough carbon, nor enough time, for more advanced carbon-based life to emerge in the outer Galaxy. This lends some support to the idea that only the mid-part of the Galactic disc can be a “Galactic habitable zone”, since the inner parts of the Galaxy are plagued by frequent supernova events that are presumably harmful to all forms of life.