First discovered in 1892, the nebula complex IC 405 was eloquently described by Max Wolf in 1903 as "a burning body from which several enormous curved flames seem to break out like gigantic prominences". Eventually "The Flaming Star Nebula" became adopted as the popular name for IC 405.
The IC 405 complex would be invisible if not for the ionizing energy of a brilliant O type star, AE Aurigae. Many nebulae have a single hot, massive star as their ionizing source. These stars are usually born from the raw materials of the gaseous clouds they now illuminate. Not so with AE Aurigae. The turbulent history of AE Aurigae began 2.5 million years ago when a close encounter between two massive binary stars occurred near where the trapezium cluster of M42 exists today. The outcome of this collision was the eccentric double star Iota Orionis and two classic "runaway" stars ejected into space at remarkable speed. One of the two runaway stars is AE Aurigae which continues to soar through space at the remarkable velocity of 200 kilometers per second. In its travels from the Orion region it encountered the interstellar cloud of gas and dust we know now as IC 405. Hydrogen within the cloud emits red light as its electrons become stripped by AE Aurigae's ultraviolet radiation. The brilliant blue color is reflected starlight of AE Aurigae from the surface of innumerable dust particles within the cloud.
Runaway stars are massive O and B type stars
that travel through space at very high velocities. There are several
theories about the events that set these peculiar stars in motion.
One theory suggests the stars were set in motion by either a supernova
or a strong gravitational interaction with another star. Once
the stars direction and velocity are known it's possible to reconstruct
its previous path and even predict its place of origin like with
AE Aurigae. Runaway stars can be identified by the presence of
"bow" shocks which indicate their supersonic speeds.
Bow shocks are not a property of normal stars.