In a celestial seascape, the runaway star Zeta Ophiuchi charts its extraordinary voyage through space, creating a mesmerizing interstellar bow wave—a phenomenon captured in this striking infrared portrait. The false-color view showcases Zeta Oph, a colossal star 20 times more massive than the Sun, at the center of the frame. Moving leftward at a staggering 24 kilometers per second, Zeta Oph generates a curved shock front as its powerful stellar wind compresses and heats the surrounding dusty interstellar material.
But what propels this cosmic ship on its remarkable journey? The answer lies in its tumultuous past. Zeta Oph was once part of a binary star system, its companion star more massive and short-lived. When the companion star underwent a cataclysmic supernova explosion, shedding mass dramatically, Zeta Oph was ejected from the system. The aftermath of this stellar upheaval is now immortalized in the arcing bow wave captured in this image.
Situated approximately 460 light-years away, Zeta Oph boasts a luminosity 65,000 times that of the Sun. Despite its brilliance, the star is shrouded in obscuring dust, making it less conspicuous in the night sky. The image, spanning about 1.5 degrees or 12 light-years, offers a glimpse into the cosmic odyssey of Zeta Ophiuchi.
This celestial portrait, taken in infrared, provides a poignant farewell to NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, which concluded its 16-year mission exploring the cosmos in January 2020. The legacy of Spitzer lives on in this captivating image, immortalizing the dynamic forces and extraordinary journeys that unfold in the vast expanse of our galactic neighborhood.