A hot star 20 times larger than the Sun, Zeta Ophiuchi is the blue spot in the centre of this image taken with Nasa’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer.
Ploughing its way through a large cloud of interstellar dust and gas, when seen in visible light it appears as a relatively dim red star surrounded by other dim stars and no dust.
However, in this image taken with Nasa’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer – or WISE – a completely different view emerges.
Zeta Ophiuchi is a stellar juggernaut that is thought to have once been part of a binary star system with an even more massive partner.
It’s believed that when the partner exploded as a supernova, blasting away most of its mass, Zeta Ophiuchi was suddenly freed and shot away like a bullet moving at 54,000 miles per hour.
It is about 20 times larger and 65,000 times more luminous than the sun – if Zeta Ophiuchi weren’t surrounded by so much dust, it would be one of the brightest stars in the sky and appear blue to the eye.
Like all stars with this kind of extreme mass and power, it subscribes to the ‘live fast, die young’ motto and is already about halfway through its very short eight million-year lifespan.
In comparison, the sun is roughly halfway through its ten billion-year lifespan
While the sun will eventually become a quiet white dwarf, Zeta Ophiuchi, like its ex-partner, will ultimately die in a massive explosion called a supernova.
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