The Evolution and Stability of Massive Stars
Massive stars are the ultimate source for nearly all the elements necessary for life. The first stars forge these elements from the sparse set of ingredients supplied by the Big Bang, and distribute enriched ashes throughout their galactic homes via their winds and explosive deaths. Subsequent generations follow suit, assembling from the enriched ashes of their predecessors. Over the last several decades, the astrophysics community has developed a sophisticated theoretical picture of the evolution of these stars, but it remains an incomplete accounting of the rich set of observations. Using state of the art models of massive stars, I have investigated the internal processes taking place throughout the life-cycles of stars spanning those from the first generation (“Population III”) to the present-day (“Population I”). I will argue that early-generation stars were not highly unstable to perturbations, contrary to a host of past investigations, if a correct accounting is made for the viscous effect of convection. For later generations, those with near solar metallicity, I find that this very same convection may excite gravity-mode oscillations that produce observable brightness variations at the stellar surface when the stars are near the main sequence. If confirmed with modern high-precision monitoring experiments, like Kepler and CoRoT, the properties of observed gravity modes in massive stars could provide a direct probe of the poorly constrained physics of gravity mode excitation by convection. Finally, jumping forward in stellar evolutionary time, I propose and explore an entirely new mechanism to explain the giant eruptions observed and inferred to occur during the final phases of massive stellar evolution. This mechanism taps into the vast nuclear fusion luminosity, and accompanying convective luminosity, in the stellar core to excite waves capable of carrying a super-Eddington luminosity out to the stellar envelope. This energy transfer from the core to the envelope has the potential to unbind a significant amount of mass in close proximity to a star's eventual explosion as a core collapse supernova.