We study free–free absorption of radio emission by winds of massive stars. We derive formulae for the optical depth through the wind measured from a point of emission along a jet, taking into account Compton and photoionization heating and Compton, recombination, line and advection cooling.
We apply the developed formalism to radio monitoring data for Cyg X-1, which allows us to obtain strong constraints on the structure of its inner jet. With the data at 15 GHz, and taking into account an anisotropy of the stellar wind in Cyg X-1, we estimate the location of the peak of that emission along the jet at about one orbital separation, i.e. ∼3 × 1012 cm. Given a previous determination of the turnover frequency in Cyg X-1, this implies the location of the base of the jet at ∼103 gravitational radii. We also obtain corresponding results at 8.3 and 2.25 GHz, which roughly follow the standard conical partially self-absorbed jet model. Furthermore, we find that the level of the orbital modulation depends on the radio flux, with the modulation being substantially stronger when the radio flux is lower. This is explained by the height of the radio emission along the jet decreasing with the decreasing radio flux, as predicted by jet models. Based on the finding of the flux-dependent orbital modulation, we are able to estimate a range of the possible changes of the form of the radio/X-ray correlation in Cyg X-1 due to free–free absorption. We also derive predictions for the orbital modulation and flux attenuation at frequencies beyond the 2.25–15 GHz range.