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Runaway star races
through space

Posted: 26 January 2011

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NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, WISE, has photographed a speeding star as it hurtles through space at nearly 90,000 kilometres per hour.

The star, known as zeta Ophiuchi, is some twenty times the mass of our own Sun, but astronomers think it must have once orbited around an even heftier star that exploded in a dramatic supernova event at the end of its life. The explosion kicked zeta Ophiuchi onto its new path at a breakneck speed of 24 kilometres per second (approximately 87,000 kilometres per hour).

The star, seen here as a blue dot inside the yellow arc of the bow shock, is racing through space at 24 kilometres per second towards the top left of this image. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA.

As it races through space, its powerful winds push interstellar gas and dust out of its way to create an arc of compressed material in front of it, called a bow shock. This shock wave is so compressed that it glows in infrared light, which WISE is able to detect. Radiation streaming out of the star is heating the dust in the immediate vicinity, giving it a red glow, while further away the clouds of dust and gas remain undisturbed. In visible light only the star can be seen.

Zeta Ophiuchi is burning through its lifespan too – it is already halfway through its short eight million year life. In comparison, our Sun is only halfway through its 10 billion year life expectancy. While the Sun will eventually swell into a red giant before shrinking into a white dwarf, zeta Ophiuchi will go out with a bang, exploding in a supernova just like its long-lost companion.

The Planets
From tiny Mercury to distant Neptune and Pluto, The Planets profiles each of the Solar System's members in depth, featuring the latest imagery from space missions. The tallest mountains, the deepest canyons, the strongest winds, raging atmospheric storms, terrain studded with craters and vast worlds of ice are just some of the sights you'll see on this 100-page tour of the planets.

Hubble Reborn
Hubble Reborn takes the reader on a journey through the Universe with spectacular full-colour pictures of galaxies, nebulae, planets and stars as seen through Hubble's eyes, along the way telling the dramatic story of the space telescope, including interviews with key scientists and astronauts.

3D Universe
Witness the most awesome sights of the Universe as they were meant to be seen in this 100-page extravaganza of planets, galaxies and star-scapes, all in 3D!


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