Massive Star Making Waves: 2012

Photograph by

Robert Hurt

About this image

The vast bow wave caused as stellar winds hit surrounding cosmic dust clouds is captured in this striking image. At the centre is the giant star Zeta Ophiuchi, which is moving through the surrounding space at about 24 kilometres per second about 370 light years from Earth. Stars generate a stellar wind, high-energy particles that blast from their surface. Where this stellar wind hits the dust clouds a shock wave forms, very much like the bow wave that precedes a ship moving at sea or the sonic boom of a supersonic aircraft. In space, the effect is to heat up the dust which can then be seen glowing in infrared radiation. The infrared radiation is colour coded by wavelength: infrared at 3.6 and 4.5 micrometres are coloured blue, 8.0 micrometres in green and 24 micrometres in red. The data for this image were captured by NASA’s orbiting Spitzer Space Telescope. Spitzer Science Center, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, USA