Speeding Star 20 Times More Massive than Sun Makes Spectacular Glowing Waves [PHOTOS]

First Posted: Dec 19, 2012 08:57 AM EST

A giant star, 20 times massive and 80 times brighter than sun, kicked away and sent flying in the sky by its companion star, has been making magnificent glowing waves.

According to astronomers, the star named Zeta Ophiuchi, located around 370 light-years away, was thrown away when its nearby star, heftier than itself, died in a fiery explosion.

Ever since the explosion, Zeta Opiuchi, which is also about six times hotter and eight times wider than sun, is travelling along at a whopping speed of about 54,000 mph (24 kilometers per second), producing spectacular glowing waves ahead of its direction of travel.

Scientists say that the speed of the racing star is fast enough to break the sound barrier in the surrounding interstellar material.

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has captured these dramatic waves through infrared lighting. Such glowing waves produced from a propelled star are known as bow shock, an analogous to the ripples that precede the bow of a ship as it moves through the water.

"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 star’s supersonic motion result in the spectacular collision," NASA explained in a statement as it released the image of the glowing waves.

A bow shock is a common phenomenon with stars plowing through space dust after being flung away from their former companion. However, the sun could be an exception.

"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," astronomers said, adding, "While the sun will eventually become a quiet white dwarf, Zeta Ophiuchi, like its ex-partner, will ultimately die in a massive explosion called a supernova."

NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE had spotted the runaway star Zeta Ophiuchi over a year ago, but could obtain a detailed image through Spitzer only recently.

Scroll down to view the images of glowing waves or bow shock created by some of the stars speeding through the sky.

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