Universe Guide

What is a Wolf-Rayet Star?

Wolf-Rayet star Facts

What is a Wolf-Rayet Star?

Wolf-Rayet Stars are a special type of star that were first discovered by French astronomers, Charles Wolf (1827-1918) and Georges Rayet (1839-1906) in 1867. These stars can be identified by one of their star names starting WR. For example, Regor is also known as WR11 in addition to Gamma Velorum, HD68273 and HIP39953 and others. WR1 doesn't signify that they were the discovered in that order, the first stars that were discovered have the Id of 134, 135 and 137, all of which are in the constellation of Cygnus. Ref: Wiki

When these stars are first born, they are cosmic giants, at least 20x the mass of our Sun. As they are giant stars, they do what giants star are notorious for, they burn through their energy reserves at an alarming rate. Large stars live shorter lives than stars which are smaller. A small star such as Proxima Centauri, a tiny red dwarf star will use its fuel supplies at a much lower speed than bigger stars.

Stars become a Wolf-Rayet star when they've used up all or nearly all of their hydrogen. What has happened to all the hydrogen, it has now become helium. The stars outward pressure will overrule the power of gravity and start ejecting out its energy in stellar winds as you can see from the picture below of WR124. After converting helium, it starts to create Lithium, and so on forth up the Periodic Table till it gets to 26, Iron when it can therefore not process any more and explode. Becoming a Wolf-Rayet star is one step in the evolution of the star.

Wolf-Rayet stars have a high metallicity value because of a higher percentage of its composition will be non-hydrogen gases.

A Wolf-Rayet star's life could be over in a matter of millions of years which might seem quite a long time but compare it to our star, the Sun which has about a 10 billion year lifetime for which we are roughly mid-way through. Proxima Centauri is expected to last trillions of years. Ref: Wiki

When they do go out, they'll be one almighty explosion. We won't be affected by the explosion in terms of life lost but we could well see it explode in a supernova or even hypernova explosion.

A Wolf-Rayet stage is a normal part of the evolution of a star. It is the final part of its life before it explodes and throws out it heavy elements which will then make new stars and planets. Wolf-Rayet stars can be found in binary and multiple star systems across the universe. N.A.S.A.

Wolf-Rayet Visibility

Most Wolf-Rayet are not visible to the naked eye because of their distance to the Earth and because most of their output is in ultraviolet which our eyes can't detect. Ref: Kidzsearch.

Two visible Wolf-Rayet stars are Regor in the constellation of Vela and Theta Muscae in Musca. Both of these stars are in multiple star systems but shouldn't be taken as a rule or an exception. These stars have a very high luminosity. When I say Luminosity I am talking about the amount of visible and non-visible energy that they throw out. These stars are massive compared to our Sun. The luminosity of these stars can be as much as many hundreds of times greater than the luminosity of our own star, the Sun.

Wolf-Rayet Spectral Types

There are three main spectral types of Wolf-Rayet and they are based on the composition of the star and what is the dominant gas in the star. WC (Carbon), WN (Nitrogen) and WO (Oxygen). WO and WC can be classed in the same type Ref: Phys .

Each type is further broken down into types that signify their temperature, luminosity and magnitude. The star Regor has a spectral type of WC8 which means it has a temperature of about 60,000 Kelvin, a Radius 4.2x that of the Sun. Its mass is 11x more than our Sun. Its luminosity is 200,000 more than the Sun.

Extrasolar Planets in Orbit

Due to the violent nature of Wolf-Rayet stars, there would be little chance of survival for any planet in orbit. The planet would be scorched to cinders. The Sun is stable compared to Wolf-Rayet stars which has enabled planets to form in orbit round it and provide the facility for life to exist. The first exoplanet to be discovered was found orbiting Lich a.k.a. PSR B1257+12. Lich is a neutron star and people probably bet on pulsars having none but they do.

Wolf-Rayet galaxy

The term Wolf-Rayet are more commonly associated with stars but it also applies to galaxies. A Wolf-Rayet galaxy is a galaxy with a higher than normal or average star formation. The galaxy will consume and use all its supply of gas and dust up faster than a normal galaxy. An example of a Wolf-Rayet galaxy is irregular galaxy, M82 also known as the Cigar Galaxy.

Another galaxy that is considered as being a Wolf-Rayet is SBS 1415+437 which 45 Million Light Years away in the constellation of Bootes. It is considered a Wolf-Rayet Galaxy because it has a higher than normal concentration of Wolf-Rayet Stars. Futurism

Wolf-Rayets in other Galaxies

Because of their sheer size and power, these stars can be spotted in other galaxies. They are not just a phenomena that is limited to the milky way. An example of a Wolf-Rayet in another galaxy is R136a1 in the nearby Tarantula nebula in the Large Magellanic Cloud. R136a1 is the most massive star so far discovered. It is most massive in terms of mass not diameter.

Wolf-Rayet 124

Wolf-Rayet 124 in the constellation of <a href=/constellation/sagitta>Sagitta</a>

Below is a picture taken by the hubble space telescope is an example of a Wolf-Rayet star in the constellation of Sagitta. As you can see from the picture, the star is in the middle with its solar winds pushing out.

List of Example Wolf-Rayet Stars

These stars are rare, in fact, according to the Wolf-Rayet Catalog which is frequently updated, there are only about 639 stars of this type out there as at Jan 2018. This site only has details for the 41 Wolf-Rayet stars that were examined by the Hipparcos space telescope around 1990.

Below is a select list of Wolf-Rayet Stars that have been discovered. More Wolf-Rayet Stars can be found on the star search page. If you need a complete list then a recommended page is Sheffield University which is maintained by one of their professors. The only Wolf-Rayet Stars on this site are ones that have a Hipparcos ID or are special, e.g. Peony Star.

NameConstellationDistance (Lt.Yr)
AG CarinaeCarina5263.16
CQ CepheiCepheus7142.86
EZ Canis MajorisCanis Major1388.89
HD 143414Triangulum Australe900.90
HD 151932Scorpius1851.85
HD 152408Scorpius694.44
HD 219460Cepheus3571.43
HD 90657Carina1075.27
HD 94546Carina232.02
HD 97152Carina1234.57
Peony StarSagittarius8000.00
Theta MuscaeMusca3846.15
V1679 CygniOrion192.31
WR 124Sagitta4761.90

Related Pages of Interest :-

Comments and Questions

There's no register feature and no need to give an email address if you don't need to. All messages will be reviewed before being displayed. Comments may be merged or altered slightly such as if an email address is given in the main body of the comment.

You can decline to give a name which if that is the case, the comment will be attributed to a random star. A name is preferred even if its a random made up one by yourself.

This website is using cookies. More info. That's Fine