Incredible shock wave from a rejected star hurtling through space at 100,000 miles per hour

Zeta Oviucci was once in close orbit with another star, before being ejected when that companion was destroyed in a supernova explosion. Infrared data from Spitzer reveal a stunning shock wave made of material moving away from the star’s surface and hitting the gas in its path. Lunar data show an X-ray emission bubble located around the star, produced by gas heated to millions of degrees by the shock wave. Lunar data help tell more about the history of this wild star. Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ. Cambridge/V. Cesc Raines et al; Radio: NSF/NRAO/VLA; Lens: PanSTARRS

  • Zeta Ophiuchus is a unique star that probably once had a companion that was destroyed when struck by a supernova.
  • The supernova explosion sends the Zeta Ophiuchi, seen in the Spitzer data (green and red) and the Moon (blue) into space.
  • X-rays detected by the Moon come from gas heated to millions of degrees by shock wave effects.
  • Scientists are working to match computer models of these objects to explain data obtained at different wavelengths.

Zeta Ophiuchus is a star with a complicated past, as it was likely ejected from its home planet in a powerful stellar explosion. Detailed by a new look[{ » attribute= » »>NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory helps tell more of the history of this runaway star.

Located approximately 440 light-years from Earth, Zeta Ophiuchi is a hot star that is about 20 times more massive than the Sun. Evidence that Zeta Ophiuchi was once in close orbit with another star, before being ejected at about 100,000 miles per hour when this companion was destroyed in a supernova explosion over a million years ago has been provided by previous observations.

In fact, previously released infrared data from NASA’s now-retired Spitzer Space Telescope, seen in this new composite image, reveals a spectacular shock wave (red and green) that was formed by matter blowing away from the star’s surface and slamming into gas in its path. A bubble of X-ray emission (blue) located around the star, produced by gas that has been heated by the effects of the shock wave to tens of millions of degrees, is revealed by data from Chandra.

A team of astronomers has constructed the first detailed computer models of the shock wave. They have begun testing whether the models can explain the data obtained at different wavelengths, including X-ray, infrared, optical, and radio observations. All three of the different computer models predict fainter X-ray emissions than observed. In addition, the bubble of X-ray emission is brightest near the star, whereas two of the three computer models predict the X-ray emission should be brighter near the shock wave. The team of astronomers was led by Samuel Green from the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies in Ireland.

In the future, these scientists plan to test more complex models with additional physics — including the effects of turbulence and particle acceleration — to see if the agreement with X-ray data improves.

A paper describing these findings has been accepted into the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics. The lunar data used here were originally analyzed by Jesus Toala of the Institute of Astrophysics in Andalusia, Spain, who also wrote the proposal that led to the observations.

Reference: “Heat Emission from Arc Shocks. 2. 3D Magneto-Hydrodynamic Models of Zeta Oviuki by S. Green, J. Mackie, P. Kavanagh, TJ Howarth, M. Moutzori and VV Govramadze, Astronomy and Astrophysics.
DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361/202243531

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center manages the lunar program. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory’s Chandra X-ray Center controls science operations from Cambridge, Massachusetts and flight operations from Burlington, Massachusetts.

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