Massive Star Makes Waves

Spitzer_sig12-014_1024

spitzer_sig12-014 December 18th, 2012

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The giant star Zeta Ophiuchi is having a "shocking" effect on the surrounding dust clouds in this infrared image from NASAs Spitzer Space Telescope. Stellar winds flowing out from this fast-moving star are making ripples in the dust as it approaches, creating a bow shock seen as glowing gossamer threads, which, for this star, are only seen in infrared light.

Zeta Ophiuchi is a young, large and hot star located around 370 light-years away. It dwarfs our own sun in many ways -- it is about six times hotter, eight times wider, 20 times more massive, and about 80,000 times as bright. Even at its great distance, it would be one of the brightest stars in the sky were it not largely obscured by foreground dust clouds.

This massive star is travelling at a snappy pace of about 54,000 mph (24 kilometers per second), fast enough to break the sound barrier in the surrounding interstellar material. Because of this motion, it creates a spectacular bow shock ahead of its direction of travel (to the left). The structure is analogous to the ripples that precede the bow of a ship as it moves through the water, or the sonic boom of an airplane hitting supersonic speeds.

The fine filaments of dust surrounding the star glow primarily at shorter infrared wavelengths, rendered here in green. The area of the shock pops out dramatically at longer infrared wavelengths, creating the red highlights.

A bright bow shock like this would normally be seen in visible light as well, but because it is hidden behind a curtain of dust, only the longer infrared wavelengths of light seen by Spitzer can reach us.

Bow shocks are commonly seen when two different regions of gas and dust slam into one another. Zeta Ophiuchi, like other massive stars, generates a strong wind of hot gas particles flowing out from its surface. This expanding wind collides with the tenuous clouds of interstellar gas and dust about half a light-year away from the star, which is almost 800 times the distance from the sun to Pluto. The speed of the winds added to the stars supersonic motion result in the spectacular collision seen here.

Our own sun has significantly weaker solar winds and is passing much more slowly through our galactic neighborhood so it may not have a bow shock at all. NASAs twin Voyager spacecraft are headed away from the solar system and are currently about three times farther out than Pluto. They will likely pass beyond the influence of the sun into interstellar space in the next few years, though this is a much gentler transition than that seen around Zeta Ophiuchi.

For this Spitzer image, infrared light at wavelengths of 3.6 and 4.5 microns is rendered in blue, 8.0 microns in green, and 24 microns in red.

Provider: Spitzer Space Telescope

Image Source: http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/images/5517-sig12-014-Massive-Star-Makes-Waves

Curator: Spitzer Space Telescope, Pasadena, CA, USA

Image Use Policy: http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/info/18-Image-Use-Policy

Image Details

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

Distance

Universescale1
458 light years
Spitzer_sig12-014_128
 

Position Details

Position (ICRS)
RA = 16h 37m 14.7s
DEC = -10° 30’ 57.4”
Orientation
North is 83.1° CCW
Field of View
40.2 x 36.4 arcminutes
Constellation
Ophiuchus

Color Mapping

  Telescope Spectral Band Wavelength
Blue Spitzer (IRAC) Infrared (Near-IR) 3.6 µm
Blue Spitzer (IRAC) Infrared (Near-IR) 4.5 µm
Green Spitzer (IRAC) Infrared (Mid-IR) 5.8 µm
Green Spitzer (IRAC) Infrared (Mid-IR) 8.0 µm
Red Spitzer (MIPS) Infrared (Mid-IR) 24.0 µm
Spectrum_ir1
Blue
Blue
Green
Green
Red
Spitzer_sig12-014_1280
×
ID
sig12-014
Subject Category
B.3.3.1.   B.4.1.1.  
Subject Name
Zeta Ophiuchi, Zeta Oph
Credits
NASA/JPL-Caltech
Release Date
2012-12-18
Lightyears
458
Redshift
458
Reference Url
http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/images/5517-sig12-014-Massive-Star-Makes-Waves
Type
Observation
Image Quality
Good
Distance Notes
Facility
Spitzer, Spitzer, Spitzer, Spitzer, Spitzer
Instrument
IRAC, IRAC, IRAC, IRAC, MIPS
Color Assignment
Blue, Blue, Green, Green, Red
Band
Infrared, Infrared, Infrared, Infrared, Infrared
Bandpass
Near-IR, Near-IR, Mid-IR, Mid-IR, Mid-IR
Central Wavelength
3600, 4500, 5800, 8000, 24000
Start Time
2007-04-01T07:38, 2007-04-01T07:38, 2007-04-01T07:38, 2007-04-01T07:38, 2007-04-11T08:06
Integration Time
Dataset ID
-
Notes
Coordinate Frame
ICRS
Equinox
Reference Value
249.31126, -10.51595
Reference Dimension
4015, 3637
Reference Pixel
1833, 1811
Scale
-1.66667000000000e-04, 1.66667000000000e-04
Rotation
83.12181
Coordinate System Projection:
TAN
Quality
Full
FITS Header
Notes
Creator (Curator)
Spitzer Space Telescope
URL
http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu
Name
-
Email
Telephone
Address
1200 E. California Blvd.
City
Pasadena
State/Province
CA
Postal Code
91125
Country
USA
Rights
http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/info/18-Image-Use-Policy
Publisher
Spitzer Science Center
Publisher ID
spitzer
Resource ID
sig12-014.tif
Metadata Date
2012-12-22
Metadata Version
1.2
×

 

Detailed color mapping information coming soon...

×
Universescalefull
458 light years