Giant star making 'waves' at high speed

Dec. 18, 2012 at 7:03 PM
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PASADENA, Calif., Dec. 18 (UPI) -- NASA says its Spitzer Space Telescope has captured an image of a fast-moving giant star making a cosmic "bow wave" in the interstellar dust it's moving through.

The Spitzer telescope managed for NASA by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., used its infrared instrument to record the glowing waves also known as a bow shock, the space agency reported Tuesday.

This bow shock is analogous to the ripples that build up ahead of the bow of a ship as it moves through the water or the pileup of air ahead of an airplane exceeding the sound barrier that results in a sonic boom.

Astronomers theorize the giant star Zeta Ophiuchi was once in a binary system with a companion star even larger than itself but when that star died in a fiery explosion, Zeta Ophiuchi was flung away and sent flying through the cosmos.

Twenty times more massive and 80,000 times brighter than our sun, Zeta Ophiuchi is traveling at about 54,000 mph.

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