A star’s shocking transformation

NASA / JPL-Caltech / UCLA

The blue star near the center of this image is Zeta Ophiuchi. When seen in visible light, it looks like a relatively dim star, surrounded by other dim stars and no dust. However, in this infrared image taken with NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, a completely different view emerges. Zeta Ophiuchi is actually a very massive, hot, bright blue star plowing its way through a large cloud of interstellar dust and gas.

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By Alan Boyle

What a difference a wavelength makes! The camera on NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, transforms the relatively ho-hum star Zeta Ophiuchi into a stunner, wrapped in a colorful, gauzy shawl of interstellar dust. Astronomers theorize that the blue giant was part of a double-star system that broke up when its partner star went supernova. Now Zeta O. is speeding away through a cloud of dust and gas at a speed of 54,000 mph, and creating the yellowish bow shock you see in this picture. The shock wave is similar to the wave that a boat pushes in front of the bow as it speeds through the water. The feature is completely hidden in visible light, but WISE’s infrared camera was able to see it through the obscuring dust. If it weren’t for all that dust, Zeta O. would be one of the brightest stars in the sky. Find out more from the WISE website.

More infrared wonders:

* NASA shares new views of galaxies * Andromeda’s once and future stars * Infrared portrait traces life of stars * Slideshow: Wonders from WISE

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URL: http://photoblog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/01/25/5915671-a-stars-shocking-transformation?chromedomain=cosmiclog

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