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Recent studies have claimed the existence of very massive stars (VMS) up to 300 M⊙ in the local Universe. As this finding may represent a paradigm shift for the canonical stellar upper-mass limit of 150 M⊙, it is timely to discuss the status of the data, as well as the far-reaching implications of such objects. We held a Joint Discussion at the General Assembly in Beijing to discuss (i) the determination of the current masses of the most massive stars, (ii) the formation of VMS, (iii) their mass loss, and (iv) their evolution and final fate. The prime aim was to reach broad consensus between observers and theorists on how to identify and quantify the dominant physical processes.

The enigmatic oxygen-sequence Wolf-Rayet stars represent a rare stage in the evolution of massive stars. Their properties can provide unique constraints on the pre-supernova evolution of massive stars. This work presents the results of a quantitative spectroscopic analysis of the known single WO stars, with the aim to obtain the key stellar parameters and deduce their evolutionary state.X-Shooter spectra of the WO stars are modeled using the line-blanketed non-local thermal equilibrium atmosphere code cmfgen. The obtained stellar parameters show that the WO stars are very hot, with temperatures ranging from 150 kK to 210 kK. Their chemical composition is dominated by carbon (>50%), while the helium mass fraction is very low (down to 14%). Oxygen mass fractions reach as high as 25%. These properties can be reproduced with dedicated evolutionary models for helium stars, which show that the stars are post core-helium burning and very close to their eventual supernova explosion. The helium-star masses indicate initial masses or approximately 40 - 60M⊙.Thus, WO stars represent the final evolutionary stage of stars with estimated initial masses of 40 - 60M⊙. They are post core-helium burning and may explode as type Ic supernovae within a few thousand years.

The information content of data on rotationally periodic recurrent discrete absorption components (DACs) in hot star wind emission lines is discussed. The data comprise optical depths tau(w,phi) as a function of dimensionless Doppler velocity w=(Deltalambda/lambda(0))(c/v(infinity)) and of time expressed in terms of stellar rotation angle phi. This is used to study the spatial distributions of density, radial and rotational velocities, and ionisation structures of the corotating wind streams to which recurrent DACs are conventionally attributed. The simplifying assumptions made to reduce the degrees of freedom in such structure distribution functions to match those in the DAC data are discussed and the problem then posed in terms of a bivariate relationship between tau(w, phi) and the radial velocity v(r)(r), transverse rotation rate Omega(r) and density rho(r, phi) structures of the streams. The discussion applies to cases where: the streams are equatorial; the system is seen edge on; the ionisation structure is approximated as uniform; the radial and transverse velocities are taken to be functions only of radial distance but the stream density is allowed to vary with azimuth. The last kinematic assumption essentially ignores the dynamical feedback of density on velocity and the relationship of this to fully dynamical models is discussed. The case of narrow streams is first considered, noting the result of Hamann et al. (2001) that the apparent acceleration of a narrow stream DAC is higher than the acceleration of the matter itself, so that the apparent slow acceleration of DACs cannot be attributed to the slowness of stellar rotation. Thus DACs either involve matter which accelerates slower than the general wind flow, or they are formed by structures which are not advected with the matter flow but propagate upstream (such as Abbott waves). It is then shown how, in the kinematic model approximation, the radial speed of the absorbing matter can be found by inversion of the apparent acceleration of the narrow DAC, for a given rotation law. The case of broad streams is more complex but also more informative. The observed tau(w,phi) is governed not only by v(r)(r) and Omega(r) of the absorbing stream matter but also by the density profile across the stream, determined by the azimuthal (phi(0)) distribution function F- 0(phi(0)) of mass loss rate around the stellar equator. When F-0(phi(0)) is fairly wide in phi(0), the acceleration of the DAC peak tau(w, phi) in w is generally slow compared with that of a narrow stream DAC and the information on v(r)(r), Omega(r) and F-0(phi(0)) is convoluted in the data tau(w, phi). We show that it is possible, in this kinematic model, to recover by inversion, complete information on all three distribution functions v(r)(r), Omega(r) and F- 0(phi(0)) from data on tau(w, phi) of sufficiently high precision and resolution since v(r)(r) and Omega(r) occur in combination rather than independently in the equations. This is demonstrated for simulated data, including noise effects, and is discussed in relation to real data and to fully hydrodynamic models