These awesome pics are what happens when a runaway star slams into a cloud of space dust.

How fast is a star?

Though the stars in the sky seem pretty fixed, they're actually all moving relative to each other. You just can't tell because they're so far away. Even the constellations are only temporary — in another 50,000 years, they may look very different!

No two stars are moving the exact same way, either. Some move at very different speeds, which means that while some stars are like this:


GIF from ExperimentalUTubeChannel/YouTube.

Others are like this:

GIF from "Star Wars."

Or something like that, anyway. They're not jumping to light speed, but they are pretty dang fast.

How do you track down a super-fast star?

That's what William Chick and his team of astronomers at the University of Wyoming wanted to do.

"We are using the bow shocks to find massive and/or runaway stars," said Henry Kobulnicky, another astronomer from the University of Wyoming.

Wait. Bow shock? What the heck is a bow shock?

As the stars zoom through space, material shoots out of them, creating a kind of solar wind. This wind hits any dust or gas in the star's way, causing it to pile up in front of the star. It's kind of like how a boat makes water bunch up in front of it.

Yeah, like that. Image from AlfvanBeem/Wikimedia Commons.

On a boat, it's a bow wave. On a star or a bullet or a plane, it's bow shock.

Eventually, the bow shocks' big, chaotic pileup heats up the gas and dust in front of the star and causes it to glow. Most of the light is infrared, which means it's invisible to the naked eye. But if you have an infrared telescope, you can spot the bow shocks. Some of them are a bit hard to see:

Image from NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Wyoming.

But some of them are just ... wow.

Image from NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA.

That star, called Zeta Ophiuchi, is hurtling across the galaxy at 54,000 mph and is gigantic — 20 times as massive as our sun. It's the Rebel Without a Cause of stars — living fast, dying young. It'll speed across the galaxy for about another 4 million years before exploding in a gigantic supernova like some sort of cosmic firework.

What made these stars so fast in the first place?

"Some stars get the boot when their companion star explodes in a supernova," said Chick. That's what they think happened to Zeta Ophiuchi up there. Others get slingshotted out of star clusters.

Our own sun isn't moving quite as fast as Zeta Ophiuchi; it's in the slow and steady camp. As for exactly how fast, it depends on what you're measuring it against, but Stanford University puts the sun's speed at a more stately 45,000 mph. We're not sure if our sun has a bow shock.

To find these stars, Chick and his team used data from a pair of powerful telescopes located in outer space, the Spitzer Space Telescope and Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). Other researchers are also looking at bow shocks to try to learn how these massive, fast stars live and die. Learning more about them could help us understand more about our own solar system and how the universe works.

Want one more picture? OK, just one more.


Bow shock around LL Orionis. Image from Hubble Heritage/Flickr.

Yeah.


GIF from wolfwaffles.com

Heroes
The Guardian / YouTube

Earlier this month, a beluga whale caught the world's attention by playing fetch with a rugby ball thrown by South African researchers off the waters of Norway.

The adorable video has been watched over 20 million times, promoting people across the globe to wonder how the whale became so comfortable around humans.

It's believed that the whale, known as Hvaldimir, was at some point, trained by the Russian military and was either released or escaped.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Facebook / Maverick Austin

Your first period is always a weird one. You know it's going to happen eventually, but you're not always expecting it. One day, everything is normal, then BAM. Puberty hits you in a way you can't ignore.

One dad is getting attention for the incredibly supportive way he handled his daughter's first period. "So today I got 'The Call,'" Maverick Austin started out a Facebook post that has now gone viral.

The only thing is, Austin didn't know he got "the call." His 13-year-old thought she pooped her pants. At that age, your body makes no sense whatsoever. It's a miracle every time you even think you know what's going on.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
Instagram / Katie Sturino

Plus-size women are in the majority. In America, 68% of women wear a size 14 or higher. Yet many plus-sized are ignored by the fashion industry. Plus-sized clothing is a $21 billion industry, however only one-fifth of clothing sales are plus-sized. On top of that, plus-sized women are often body shamed, further reinforcing that bigger body types are not mainstream despite the fact that it is common.

Plus-size fashion blogger Katie Sturino recently called out her body shamers. Sturino runs the blog, The 12ish Style, showing that plus-sized fashion isn't – and shouldn't be – limited to clothes that hide the body.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
via Twitter / Soraya

There is a strange right-wing logic that suggests when minorities fight for equal rights it's somehow a threat to the rights already held by those in the majority or who hold power.

Like when the Black Lives Matter movement started, many on the right claimed that fighting for black people to be treated equally somehow meant that other people's lives were not as valuable, leading to the short-lived All Lives Matter movement.

This same "oppressed majority" logic is behind the new Straight Pride movement which made headlines in August after its march through the streets of Boston.

Keep Reading Show less
popular