Posted on January 10th, 2013

Out of This World – The Shocking Rejection of Zeta Ophiuchi

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has captured stellar imagery that will make any surfer jealous and wishing the Jetsons truly existed so they could ride these interstellar waves. The image depicts Zeta Ophiuchi, a giant star 20 times the size of our sun, hurling through space. It is moving so fast that it is causing massive waves in the dust further ahead, creating something akin to a wake of cosmic dust.

This infrared image from the Spitzer Space Telescope shows Zeta Ophiuchi making waves in dust clouds as it careens through space. (Image Source: NASA)
NASA’s WISE captured a similar image of Zeta Ophiuchi disturbing dust clouds in 2011. (Image Source: NASA)

The image above captures these magnificent waves in infrared and then we can display them in visible red, green and blue colors. The green waves contain dust that is being scattered by stellar wind from the star. The bright red waves are areas where the dust is being heated and compressed. This phenomenon is referred to as bow shock.

Would you believe that this great giant of a star is most likely hurtling through space due to an explosive rejection? Scientists believe that Zeta Ophiuchi once resided near an even larger star that exploded in a supernovae, sending it barreling through space at 54,000 miles per hour. The morale of this story? Never trust a star with an explosive temperament!

Zeta Ophiuchi was also spotted by NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) in 2011. WISE is designed to capture infrared images with a large field of view, collecting information across the entire sky. By comparison, the Spitzer Space Telescope takes more targeted images of specific areas and events.

Katie Nelson
Geospatial Ninja
(303) 718-7163

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