A runaway star plowing through space dust

Wise_wise2011-003_500

WISE_WISE2011-003 January 21st, 2011

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

The blue star near the center of this image is Zeta Ophiuchi. When seen in visible light it appears as a relatively dim red star surrounded by other dim stars and no dust. However, in this infrared image taken with NASAs Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, a completely different view emerges. Zeta Ophiuchi is actually a very massive, hot, bright blue star plowing its way through a large cloud of interstellar dust and gas.

Astronomers theorize that this stellar juggernaut was likely once part of a binary star system with an even more massive partner. Its believed that when the partner exploded as a supernova, blasting away most of its mass, Zeta Ophiuchi was suddenly freed from its partners pull and shot away like a bullet moving 24 kilometers per second (54,000 miles per hour). Zeta Ophiuchi is about 20 times more massive and 65,000 times more luminous than the Sun. If it werent surrounded by so much dust, it would be one of the brightest stars in the sky and appear blue to the eye. Like all stars with this kind of extreme mass and power, it subscribes to the live fast, die young motto. Its already about halfway through its very short 8-million-year lifespan. In comparison, the Sun is roughly halfway through its 10-billion-year lifespan. While the Sun will eventually become a quiet white dwarf, Zeta Ophiuchi, like its ex-partner, will ultimately die in a massive explosion called a supernova.

Perhaps the most interesting features in this image are related to the interstellar gas and dust that surrounds Zeta Ophiuchi. Off to the sides of the image and in the background are relatively calm clouds of dust, appearing green and wispy, slightly reminiscent of the northern lights. Near Zeta Ophiuchi, these clouds look quite different. The cloud in all directions around the star is brighter and redder, because the extreme amounts of ultraviolet radiation emitted by the star are heating the cloud, causing it to glow more brightly in the infrared than usual.

Even more striking, however, is the bright yellow curved feature directly above Zeta Ophiuchi. This is a magnificent example of a bow shock. In this image, the runaway star is flying from the lower right towards the upper left. As it does so, its very powerful stellar wind is pushing the gas and dust out of its way (the stellar wind extends far beyond the visible portion of the star, creating an invisible bubble all around it). And directly in front of the stars path the wind is compressing the gas together so much that it is glowing extremely brightly (in the infrared), creating a bow shock. It is akin to the effect you might see when a boat pushes a wave in front it as it moves through the water. This feature is completely hidden in visible light. Infrared images like this one from WISE shed an entirely new light on the region.

The colors used in this image represent specific wavelengths of infrared light. Blue and cyan (blue-green) represent light emitted at wavelengths of 3.4 and 4.6 microns, which is predominantly from stars. Green and red represent light from 12 and 22 microns, respectively, which is mostly emitted by dust.

Image Source: /image/WISE/WISE2011-003

Curator: Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, Berkeley, CA, USA

Image Use Policy: Pulic Domain

Image Details

Image Type
Observation
Object Name
Zeta Ophiuchi
Subject - Milky Way
Star » Spectral Type » O
Nebula » Type » Interstellar Medium

Distance

Universescale1
458 light years
Wise_wise2011-003_128
 

Position Details

Position (ICRS)
RA = 16h 36m 55.3s
DEC = -10° 36’ 4.0”
Orientation
North is up
Field of View
1.6 x 1.6 degrees
Constellation
Ophiuchus

Color Mapping

  Telescope Spectral Band Wavelength
Arrow_left_blue WISE Infrared (Near-IR) 3.4 µm
Arrow_left_cyan WISE Infrared (Near-IR) 4.6 µm
Arrow_left_green WISE Infrared (Mid-IR) 12.0 µm
Arrow_left_red WISE Infrared (Mid-IR) 22.0 µm
Spectrum_ir1
Arrow_top_blue
Arrow_top_cyan
Arrow_top_green
Arrow_top_red
Wise_wise2011-003_1280
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ID
WISE2011-003
Subject Category
B.3.3.1.   B.4.1.1.  
Subject Name
Zeta Ophiuchi
Credits
NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA
Lightyears
458
Redshift
-
Reference Url
/image/WISE/WISE2011-003
Type
Observation
Image Quality
Good
Distance Notes
Facility
WISE, WISE, WISE, WISE
Instrument
Color Assignment
Blue, Cyan, Green, Red
Band
Infrared, Infrared, Infrared, Infrared
Bandpass
Near-IR, Near-IR, Mid-IR, Mid-IR
Central Wavelength
3400, 4600, 12000, 22000
Start Time
Integration Time
Dataset ID
Notes
Coordinate Frame
ICRS
Equinox
J2000
Reference Value
249.230531, -10.601111
Reference Dimension
4095, 4095
Reference Pixel
2048, 2048
Scale
-3.81944439141100e-04, 3.81944439141100e-04
Rotation
0
Coordinate System Projection:
SIN
Quality
Full
FITS Header
Notes
Creator (Curator)
Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer
URL
http://wise.astro.ucla.edu
Name
Email
outreach@ssl.berkeley.edu
Telephone
Address
7 Gauss Way
City
Berkeley
State/Province
CA
Postal Code
94720
Country
USA
Rights
Pulic Domain
Publisher
Publisher ID
WISE
Resource ID
Resource URL
/image/WISE/WISE2011-003
Related Resources
Metadata Date
2011-08-05
Metadata Version
1.2
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Detailed color mapping information coming soon...

 

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Universescalefull
458 light years