I was wondering what to post for today; a short philosophical piece, a longer discussion of holidays and family, a pretty picture, or something quick and funny.
Then the Universe delivered unto me a picture perfect present: Behold!
Trust me, you want to see this bigger! This is a Spitzer Space Telescope view of the star Zeta Ophiuchus (or Zeta Oph to its friends), a massive star plowing through the gas and dust floating in space. Zeta Oph is a bruiser, with 20 times the Sun’s mass. It’s an incredibly luminous star, blasting out light at a rate 80,000 times higher than the Sun! Even at its distance of 400 light years or so, it should be one of the brightest stars in the sky … yet it actually appears relatively dim to the eye.
That’s because it’s sitting in a dust cloud, dense opaque material that absorbs the light from the mighty star and diminishes it. However, infrared light can penetrate the murk, allowing us to peer into the cloud and see what’s going on.
Zeta Oph is blasting out a fierce wind of subatomic particles (think of it as a super-solar wind) that expands around the star. Not only that, but the star itself is moving rapidly through the dust at a speed of about 25 kilometers per second (15 miles per second), so it’s violently compressing the material ahead of it. This creates that wave structure, which is similar to the wave off the bow of a boat, though more like the supersonic shock wave generated as a fighter jet screams through the air.
That curving wave is roughly four light years long: That’s 40 trillion kilometers! The colors we see here represent different wavelengths of infrared light, well outside what the human eye can see, but are very clear to the Spitzer telescope, designed to see this flavor of light.
I love this shot; if it had been released just a week earlier, I would’ve included it in my list of the Best Pictures of the Year! In fact, an image of it from WISE, another infrared ‘scope, did make my Top Pictures list in 2011.
This is one of my favorite objects of all time, so it was easy to decide to post it today. And c’mon: It’s red and green, and is literally wrapped in bow. How could I resist?
The Universe is simply amazing, and is the gift that keeps on giving. Enjoy your holidays, folks.
TODAY IN SLATE
Meet the New Bosses
How the Republicans would run the Senate.
The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers
Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.
Cheez-Its. Ritz. Triscuits.
Why all cracker names sound alike.
Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom
This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059
- Protesters Take to the Streets to Sound Alarm on Climate Change in New York, Across the World
- Knife-Carrying White House Jumper is Vet who Feared “Atmosphere Was Collapsing”
- North Korea: American Sentenced to Hard Labor Wanted to Become “Second Snowden”
- Almost One in Four Americans Support Idea of Splitting From the Union
Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?
A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.