The glowing star in NASA’s photo is about six times bigger than our Sun, is 20 times heavier and is 80,000 times brighter. Dubbed Zeta Ophiuchi, the giant star is “speeding through space”, spewing out fast solar winds as it flies. The solar winds leave behind ripples in clouds of stellar gas, creating the beautiful waves or bow shocks in NASA’s photo. If the clouds of gas were not obscuring the large star, it would be one of the brightest objects in our night skies.
Space agency NASA said: “Like a ship plowing through still waters, the giant star Zeta Ophiuchi is speeding through space, making waves in the dust ahead.
“NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has captured a dramatic, infrared portrait of these glowing waves, also known as a bow shock.”
To the naked eye, the star’s shockwaves would be invisible.
But the Spitzer telescope observes the universe in wavelengths of infrared light, revealing otherwise hidden phenomena.
In this case, NASA said the stellar shockwaves manifest as “glowing gossamer threads” only visible in infrared.
Zeta Ophiuchi is a young but very big and hot star found roughly 370 light-years or 2,175,091,400,000,000 miles from our home planet.
NASA estimates the star is hurtling through space at an incredible 54,000mph or 24km per second.
The space agency said: “In this view, infrared light that we can’t see with our eyes has been assigned visible colours.
“Zeta Ophiuchi appears as the bright blue star at centre.
“As it charges through the dust, which appears green, fierce stellar winds push the material into waves.
“Where the waves are the most compressed, and the warmest, they appear red.”
The ripples, NASA said, are similar to those created by the bow of a ship sailing through water.
A bow shock like this would normally be visible to the naked eye if it was not obscured by stellar dust.
The only way to spot them is to peer behind the curtain with a tool like the Spitzer telescope.
Unfortunately, due to budgetary concerns, NASA will soon pull the plug on the space telescope mission.
NASA will officially retire Spitzer on January 30, 2020, after launching the telescope into space in 2003.