Quantifying Stellar Mass Loss with High Angular Resolution Imaging
NATIONAL OPTICAL ASTRONOMY OBSERVATORIES TUCSON AZ
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Mass is constantly being recycled in the universe. One of the most powerful recycling paths is via stellar mass-loss. All stars exhibit mass loss with rates ranging from approximately 10-14 to 10-4 solar mass yr-1, depending on spectral type, luminosity class, rotation rate, companion proximity, and evolutionary stage. The first generation of stars consisted mostly of hydrogen and helium. These shed material - via massive winds, planetary nebulae and supernova explosions - seeding the interstellar medium with heavier elements. Subsequent generations of stars incorporated this material, changing how stars burn and providing material for planet formation. An understanding of mass loss is critical for modeling individual stars as well as answering larger astrophysical questions. Understanding mass loss is essential for following the evolution of single stars, binaries, star clusters, and galaxies. Mass loss is one of our weakest areas in the modeling of fundamental stellar processes. In large part this is owing to lack of confrontation with detailed observations of stellar photospheres and the mass-loss process. High resolution optical imagery with telescope arrays is beginning to provide these data and, combined with spectroscopy and broad infrared and sub-mm coverage, supporting more sophisticated models on fast computers and promising a new era in mass-loss studies.