Far Out Dude! Zeta Ophiuchi Making Waves In Space
December 20, 2012

Image Of Traveling Star’s Bow Shock Captured By Spitzer Telescope

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has captured an infrared image of the glowing waves given off by a giant star that was sent hurtling through space after its companion star exploded.

Zeta Ophiuchi, the star which is currently speeding through the universe and leaving what is known as a bow shock in its wake, is 20 times more massive and 80,000 times brighter than our sun, according to the US space agency.

Scientists believe that it once had a companion star that was even larger and more massive, but when that star exploded, Zeta Ophiuchi was sent flying through space. It is currently moving through space at speeds of approximately 54,000 miles per hour, or 24 kilometers per second, they added.

"In this view, infrared light that we can't see with our eyes has been assigned visible colors," NASA officials said on Tuesday. "Zeta Ophiuchi appears as the bright blue star at center. As it charges through the dust, which appears green, fierce stellar winds push the material into waves.”

"Where the waves are the most compressed, and the warmest, they appear red," they added. "This bow shock is analogous to the ripples that precede the bow of a ship as it moves through the water, or the pileup of air ahead of a supersonic airplane that results in a sonic boom."

A picture of the same object had previously been captured by NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). Like Spitzer, WISE can see infrared light, but as it is designed to snap pictures of the entire sky, the newer image is more detailed than the older one.

"As the star tears through space, its powerful winds push gas and dust out of its way and into what is called a bow shock," NASA said of the phenomenon back when WISE captured an image in January 2011. "The material in the bow shock is so compressed that it glows with infrared light that WISE can see."

"The effect is similar to what happens when a boat speeds through water, pushing a wave in front of it," they added. "This bow shock is completely hidden in visible light. Infrared images like this one from WISE are therefore important for shedding new light on the region."