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.
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.
“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.
They’re really quite beautiful. So at least we can take comfort in our eventual doom being really, really pretty.
(Images: Pexels / Getty)