For an average star, life is pretty predictable. It comes into being, perhaps forms a few planets and then, like clockwork, it dies. However, not all stars are that lucky. Some are born in crazy environments, while chance encounters impact others in a big way. The star seen here, called Kappa Cassiopeiae (or HD 2905), falls into the latter camp.
This massive blue-white super-giant is situated about 4,000 light-years from Earth in the Cassiopeia constellation. Only it's not an ordinary star, but a star that has gone rogue.
Our galaxy is a huge place, but this extraordinary image shows just how big of an impact one single star can have on its surroundings. We, of course, have the large red streak, or a bow shock, hanging below Kappa Cassiopeiae. This arch-like feature is the result of the star's speed through the galaxy.
"Bow shocks form where the magnetic fields and wind of particles flowing off a star collide with the diffuse, and usually invisible, gas and dust that fill the space between stars. How these shocks light up tells astronomers about the conditions around the star and in space. Slow-moving stars like our sun have bow shocks that are nearly invisible at all wavelengths of light, but fast stars like Kappa Cassiopeiae create shocks that can be seen by Spitzer’s infrared detectors," explains NASA.
Kappa C's bow shock is actually positioned about 4 light-years ahead of the star itself. To put that distance in perspective, the Sun and its nearest neighbor in the Alpha Centauri system — Proxima Centauri — are separated by 4 light-years (or 24,000,000,000,000 miles).
"Some astronomers have suggested these filaments may be tracing out features of the magnetic field that runs throughout our galaxy. Since magnetic fields are completely invisible themselves, we rely on chance encounters like this to reveal a little of their structure as they interact with the surrounding dust and gas."
See a larger image here.