Feedback by massive stars and the emergence of superbubbles. I. Energy efficiency and Vishniac instabilities

M. Krause, K. Fierlinger, R. Diehl, A. Burkert, R. Voss, U. Ziegler

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Context. Massive stars influence their environment through stellar winds, ionising radiation, and supernova explosions. This is signified by observed interstellar bubbles. Such feedback is an important factor for galaxy evolution theory and galactic wind models. The efficiency of the energy injection into the interstellar medium (ISM) via bubbles and superbubbles is uncertain, and is usually treated as a free parameter for galaxy scale effects. In particular, since many stars are born in groups, it is interesting to study the dependence of the effective energy injection on the concentration of the stars.
Aims. We aim to reproduce observations of superbubbles, their relation to the energy injection of the parent stars, and to understand their effective energy input into the ISM, as a function of the spatial configuration of the group of parent stars.
Methods. We study the evolution of isolated and merging interstellar bubbles of three stars (25, 32, and 60 M⊙) in a homogeneous background medium with a density of 10mp cm-3 via 3D-hydrodynamic simulations with standard ISM thermodynamics (optically thin radiative cooling and photo-electric heating) and time-dependent energy and mass input according to stellar evolutionary tracks. We vary the position of the three stars relative to each other to compare the energy response for cases of isolated, merging and initially cospatial bubbles.
Results. Mainly due to the Vishniac instability, our simulated bubbles develop thick shells and filamentary internal structures in column density. The shell widths reach tens of per cent of the outer bubble radius, which compares favourably to observations. More energy is retained in the ISM for more closely packed groups, by up to a factor of three and typically a factor of two for intermediate times after the first supernova. Once the superbubble is established, different positions of the contained stars make only a minor difference to the energy tracks. For our case of three massive stars, the energy deposition varies only very little for distances up to about 30 pc between the stars. Energy injected by supernovae is entirely dissipated in a superbubble on a timescale of about 1 Myr, which increases slightly with the superbubble size at the time of the explosion.
Conclusions. The Vishniac instability may be responsible for the broadening of the shells of interstellar bubbles. Massive star winds are significant energetically due to their – in the long run – more efficient, steady energy injection and because they evacuate the space around the massive stars. For larger scale simulations, the feedback effect of close groups of stars or clusters may be subsumed into one effective energy input with insignificant loss of energy accuracy.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberA49
Number of pages13
JournalAstronomy & Astrophysics
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jan 2013


  • galaxies: ISM, ISM: bubbles, ISM: structure, hydrodynamics, instabilities


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