Sun will shift into a planetary nebula when it dies

For the first time, scientists have a concrete picture of what will happen to the sun when it dies.
By Joseph Scalise | Sep 28, 2018
When the sun dies in 5 billion years it will burn up, shred into pieces, and then morph into a glowing ring of gas and dust, according to new research inNature Astronomy.

Scientists have long known that the sun will die when it runs out of fuel. However, nobody has been able to determine what that death will look like until now.

In the study, a team of international researchers used a new computer model to find out that, rather that simply fading into the cosmos, the large star will shift into a stunning planetary nebula.

"These planetary nebulae are the prettiest objects in the sky and even though the sun will only become a faint one, it will be visible from neighboring galaxies," said study co-author Albert Zijlstra, professor of astrophysics at the University of Manchester, according to The Guardian. "If you lived in the Andromeda galaxy 2 million light years away you'd still be able to see it."

The sun is average in terms of size for a star, and it is currently about halfway through its life. Eventually, its core will run out of hydrogen and cause the center to collapse in on itself. That will then trigger a chain of nuclear reactions that will cause it to swell into a red giant that will engulf both Mercury and Venus.

In addition, the team also found the sun will lose half its mass and the core will rapidly heat up. That process will cause the dying nebula to emit x-rays and ultraviolet light, both of which will turn the outer layers into a brightly glowing ring of plasma.

Such new information is important because it gives brand new insights into a unique process that astronomers could one day use to analyze stars and systems far beyond the Milky Way.

"This is a nice result," added Zijlstra, according to Phys.org. "Not only do we now have a way to measure the presence of stars of ages a few billion years in distant galaxies, which is a range that is remarkably difficult to measure, we even have found out what the sun will do when it dies!"

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