Are any of the images of bow shocks created from visible light, or are they all from infrared light? While I'm including two of the better known images, my question is about any known bow shock.

LL Orionis
LL Orionis

Zeta Ophiuchi

Zeta Ophiuchi

Source of image-Wilipedia

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ cool question!! $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Jun 7, 2019 at 21:57

1 Answer 1


I'm far from an expert in this topic, but I was curious about this question and looked into it myself. Sadly, I was only able to come up with a pretty weak answer.

The very Wikipedia page you got the images from contains this line,

Bow shocks are also a common feature in Herbig Haro objects, in which a much stronger collimated outflow of gas and dust from the star interacts with the interstellar medium, producing bright bow shocks that are visible at optical wavelengths.

But it is not cited. Perhaps it should have a [citation needed]. That sentence does link to this page about the Herbig Haro Object, which does contain a cited line,

HH objects associated with very young stars or very massive protostars are often hidden from view at optical wavelengths by the cloud of gas and dust from which they form. The intervening material can diminish the visual magnitude by factors of tens or even hundreds at optical wavelengths. Such deeply embedded objects can only be observed at infrared or radio wavelengths.

So it seems to me the answer to your question is that no, images of bow shocks in visible light are not produced because the visible light from the bow shock cannot reach us due to there being stuff in the way.

I understand that an answer based on 2 Wikipedia pages as sources is pretty weak by Stack Exchange standards, and that these Herbig Haro Objects are not the only thing in the universe that create bow shocks, and therefore the possibility exists that visible bow shocks around other objects may exist. I hope this answer inspires an expert to give an answer deserving of that green check mark.


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