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Scientists have figured out when and how our sun will die - and it's going to be beautiful

Prepare for an almighty planetary nebula

Scientists have figured out when and how our sun will die - and it's going to be beautiful
08 May 2018

We’re five billion years in the future. Humanity has evolved beyond recognition – if we’re even still around. Planet Earth has long been uninhabitable. And our dear old sun is in its final death throes.

So, what happens next?

For a long time, scientists thought the sun would die by simply running out of fuel. But new research from the University of Manchester and published in Nature Astronomy has worked out that the sun will end in an almighty blaze of glory known as a planetary nebula.

The sun, which is currently around 4.5 billion years old, is expected to turn into a red giant and expand to 250 times its current size.

Our sun, aged 4.5 billion years 

The core will then heat up rapidly, as explained in the Guardian, making it radiate ultraviolet light and x-rays that catch up with the outer layers and turn them into a brightly glowing ring of plasma. This planetary nebula will shine for about 10,000 years.

Professor Albert Zijlstra, who led the research, said: “When a star dies it ejects a mass of gas and dust – known as its envelope – into space. The envelope can be as much as half the star’s mass. This reveals the star’s core, which by this point in the star’s life is running out of fuel, eventually turning off before finally dying.

Read more: “Three-foot flames and melting metal”: How I survived the biggest ever fire in space

“It is only then the hot core makes the ejected envelope shine brightly for around 10,000 years – a brief period in astronomy. This is what makes the planetary nebula visible. Some are so bright that they can be seen from extremely large distances measuring tens of millions of light years, where the star itself would have been much too faint to see.”

We’ve known about planetary nebulae for a long time – and have even caught sight of them using space telescopes.

The Helix planetary nebula (pictured) is the nearest planetary nebula to Earth, lying around 450 light years away in the constellation Aquarius

They’re really quite beautiful. So at least we can take comfort in our eventual doom being really, really pretty. 

(Images: Pexels / Getty)