NASA has published new data on how Zeta Ophiuchus, a star more powerful than the Sun, was forcibly ejected from its birthplace more than a million years ago. While all stars are moving, some stars, known as escapees, are moving at an accelerated pace or in unexpected directions. Although escaping stars are not unusual, they are unusual, and scientists have been speculating for decades about what is guiding them on their path.
Zeta Ophiuchus is so incredibly hot that it appears blue, and is therefore classified as an O-type star (the largest and hottest typical classification of stars). The star is also extremely large — 20 times larger than the Sun. Unlike most of the other huge stars discovered by NASA, Zeta Ophiuchus is now only 440 light-years away, making it one of the closest O-type stars to Earth. This proximity distinguishes Zeta Ophiuchi as an ideal place to study the origin and consequences of escaping O-stars. The zeta of the Ophiuchus is also exceptionally bright, and would be even brighter if it were not hidden by clouds of dust and gas. Experts believe that the escaping stars are probably ejected from their original locations due to interaction with another neighboring star or due to supernova explosions.
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Now, a new analysis of data from multiple NASA sources has begun to unravel the mysteries of Zeta Ophiuchus’ deprivation. Astronomers believe that Zeta Ophiuchus originally had an even more massive companion star, which was destroyed by a supernova explosion. At that moment, Zeta Ophiuchi was launched at a speed of over 100,000 miles per hour, and its celestial wandering began. Data at several different wavelengths tell more about the history of the star’s journey: infrared data show a dramatic shock wave that occurred when matter from the surface of the star collided with gas, and X-ray data show how the impact of this shock wave created an emission bubble. heats up to tens of millions of degrees.
Lingering questions about the origin of Zeta Ophiuchus
Although this new study, conducted by Samuel Green of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Study in Ireland, has solved some questions related to the origin of Zeta Ophiuchus, other mysteries remain. The team built detailed computer models that began studying the star, taking into account X—ray, optical, infrared and radio data from two powerful NASA telescopes – the now obsolete Spitzer Space Telescope and the Chandra X-ray Observatory. However, these computer models have not yet fully explained how Zeta Ophiuchus was dropped from its original orbit. NASA notes that “all three different computer models predict weaker X-rays than observed. The X-ray bubble is brightest near the star, whereas two out of three computer models predict that the X-ray radiation should be brighter near the shock wave.”
As the researchers continue to study the star, they plan to use their existing work as a basis for developing even more complex models. The authors of the study note that they hope for new, more accurate data about the star, since existing data are polluted by stellar radiation. Perhaps this is a job for NASA’s new James Webb telescope. However, even without updated data, NASA-funded scientists will take into account considerations including turbulence, particle acceleration and transport, anisotropic thermal conductivity and more detailed wind models next time, hoping that adjustments will help focus on Zeta Ophiuchus’ past.