A massive star flung away from its former companion, forming a brilliant bow shock through gas and dust, in this new image below from NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) telescope.

The star, named Zeta Ophiuchi, is the bright blue one in the images’s center. It is about 20 times more massive than the Sun; a long time ago, it orbited another star, even more massive. When that other star exploded in a supernova, Zeta Ophiuchi shot away, flying at 54,000 miles per hour (24 kilometers per second).

© NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA

As it is running away through space, a bow shock is created: the star’s powerful winds push gas and dust out of its way (you could compare this to what happens when a boat speeds through water, pushing a wave in front ¬†of it). The material in the bow shock is so compressed that it glows in infrared light, visible to WISE (it is hidden in visible light).

The picture was generated by combining 16 individual exposures, taken between February 27 and March 7, 2010.

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