An extreme helium star (abbreviated EHe), or a PV Telescopii Variable, is a low-mass supergiant that is almost devoid of hydrogen, the most common chemical element of the Universe. Since there are no known conditions where stars devoid of hydrogen can be formed from molecular clouds, it is theorized that they are the product of the mergers of helium-core and carbon-oxygen core white dwarfs.
Extreme helium stars form a sub-group within the broader category of hydrogen-deficient stars. The latter includes cool carbon stars like R Coronae Borealis variables, helium-rich spectral class O or B stars, population I Wolf–Rayet stars, AM CVn stars, white dwarfs of spectral type WC, and transition stars like PG 1159.
The first known extreme helium star, HD 124448, was discovered in 1942 by Daniel M. Popper at the McDonald Observatory near Fort Davis, Texas, United States. This star displayed no lines of hydrogen in its spectrum, but strong helium lines as well as the presence of carbon and oxygen. The second, PV Telescopii, was discovered in 1952, and by 1996 a total of 25 candidates had been found. (This list was narrowed to 21 by 2006.) A common characteristic of these stars is that the abundance ratio of carbon to helium is always in the range of 0.3 to 1%. This is despite wide variation of other abundance ratios in EHe stars.
The known extreme helium stars are supergiants where hydrogen is underabundant by a factor of 10,000 or more. The surface temperatures of these stars range from 9,000–35,000 K. They are primarily composed of helium, with the second most abundant element, carbon, forming about one atom per 100 atoms of helium. The chemical composition of these stars implies that they have undergone both hydrogen and helium burning at some stage of their evolution.
Two possible scenarios were proposed to explain the composition of extreme helium stars.
Examination of element abundances from seven EHe stars agreed with those predicted by the DD model.