NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer captured this amazing image of the star Zeta Ophiuchi plowing through a radiant dust cloud at 54,000 miles per hour. Why is Zeta Ophiuchi on the run?
We like to think of stars as fixed objects hanging in the sky, but as we've seen before in Kotaku's daily science post, that isn't the case. These massively heavenly bodies often rampage across the galaxy, thrown into motion by some cataclysmic stellar event.
In the case of Zeta Ophiuchi, scientists believe it was once part of a binary star, but when it's massive partner went supernova, Zeta was shot away like a massive cannonball.
To the naked eye, Zeta Ophiuchi appears as just a large blue dot in a field of other blue dots. Thanks to the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, we're given a stunning look at how the movement of this star 20 times the size of our sun is having on the universe, causing a colorful cloud of gasses to warp and bow as it pushes through, on towards the upper left of the image. Astronomers call the effect a bow shock. I call it beautiful, and a reminder of the powerful forces in action far away from our peaceful little corner of the universe.