September 23, 2021

Beautiful photos show signs of ‘runaway’ stars in the Milky WayBy

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bowshocksBy BY MIRIAM KRAMER From Mashable

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Runaway stars speeding through the galaxy aren’t exactly easy to find, but luckily, they leave some clues that space-based telescopes can catch and beam back to Earth.

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) have caught sight of “bow shocks” produced by dozens of these runaway stars shooting through the galaxy at supersonic speeds.

“It may be that our Milky Way is, in fact, swarming with these hot runaway stars,” William Chick, a scientist working with the Spitzer and WISE data, said during a presentation here at the 227th meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

The bow shocks are created when gas and dust pile up in front of the star as it makes its rounds in the galaxy.

One example of a runaway star, called Zeta Ophiuchi, is actually rushing through the Milky Way at 54,000 mph relative to its surroundings, according to NASA. The bow shocks of a runaway star are related to the mass of the object.

bowshocks3Zeta Ophiuchi is about 20 times more massive and moving much faster than the sun, creating the beautiful bow shock photos produced by the Spitzer and WISE telescopes.

Bow shocks left behind by runaway stars in the Milky Way.

Chick and his team used data collected by Spitzer and WISE to find more than 200 images of the distinctive bow shocks presumably created by runaway stars. Once found, they picked 80 candidates from the data to figure out the source of the shocks. According to NASA, most appear to be produced by massive stars like Zeta Ophiuchi.

“WISE and Spitzer have given us the best images of bow shocks so far,” scientist Cintia Peri, who is involved in another search for bow shocks, said in a statement. “In many cases, bow shocks that looked very diffuse before, can now be resolved, and, moreover, we can see some new details of the structures.”

And that’s important because scientists aren’t exactly sure why these stars are running away in the first place.

One theory on the origin of these runaways suggests the stars were accelerated when the objects were kicked out of a massive star cluster and flung off into space. Another idea has the stars becoming runaways after a companion explodes, shooting the star off into the cosmos.

“The gravitational boost increases a star’s speed relative to other stars,” Chick said in the statement.




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