Local radiation hydrodynamic simulations of massive star envelopes at the iron opacity peak

Yan Fei Jiang, Matteo Cantiello, Lars Bildsten, Eliot Quataert, Omer Blaes

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105 Scopus citations


We perform three-dimensional radiation hydrodynamic simulations of the structure and dynamics of the radiationdominated envelopes of massive stars at the location of the iron opacity peak. One-dimensional hydrostatic calculations predict an unstable density inversion at this location, whereas our simulations reveal a complex interplay of convective and radiative transport whose behavior depends on the ratio of the photon diffusion time to the dynamical time. The latter is set by the ratio of the optical depth per pressure scale height, t0, to tc = c cg, where cg 50 kms-1 is the isothermal sound speed in the gas alone. When , t0 蠑 tc convection reduces the radiation acceleration and removes the density inversion. The turbulent energy transport in the simulations agrees with mixing length theory and provides its first numerical calibration in the radiation-dominated regime. When t0 蠐 tc, convection becomes inefficient and the turbulent energy transport is negligible. The turbulent velocities exceed cg, driving shocks and large density fluctuations that allow photons to preferentially diffuse out through low-density regions. However, the effective radiation acceleration is still larger than the gravitational acceleration so that the time average density profile contains a modest density inversion. In addition, the simulated envelope undergoes large-scale oscillations with periods of a few hours. The turbulent velocity field may affect the broadening of spectral lines and therefore stellar rotation measurements in massive stars, while the time variable outer atmosphere could lead to variations in their mass loss and stellar radius.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number74
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 1 2015
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • hydrodynamics
  • methods: numerical
  • radiative transfer
  • stars: massive


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