Gigantic runaway star blazes through the cosmos

The star Zeta Ophiuchi is twenty times the size of our Sun and flying blind through space. Its runaway path has taken it through a huge clump of space dust, creating this beautiful bow-shaped "wake" of gas and dust.

Zeta Ophiuchi was once the companion of another, even bigger star, but its partner went supernova. This ejected Zeta Ophiuchi from its orbit, shooting it off into open space like a humongous bullet. It is now hurtling through space at 54,000 miles per hour, and the latest part of its cosmic odyssey has taken it through this dust cloud. WISE, NASA's infrared telescope, snapped this amazing image of Zeta Ophiuchi and its "bow shock."

NASA experts explain what's going on here:

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. 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. 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.

[via NASA]