This Is What the Sun Will Look Like As It Dies

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Some time in the distant future — the really distant future, like 5 billion years or so — our sun will begin to run out of fuel. It will begin to swell, its outer layers expanding into space to about as far as the orbit of Earth (sorry, but it’s true). Eventually, it will blow off much of its material altogether, leaving behind the roasted remains of planets — including ours — and a small, dense core called a white dwarf.

As that’s happening, it will probably look a lot like the star above.

This new image from Hubble shows the star HD 184738, aka Campbell’s Hydrogen Star, which lies at the heart of a small planetary nebula in the constellation Cygnus.

HD 184738 is a low-mass, sun-like star that’s currently going through the process of casting off its outer layers. Seen from a distance, this is what our own sun may look like at some point, 5 billion years from now.

The bright red and orange hues are caused by glowing hydrogen and nitrogen gases.

The similarities take on an especially eerie aspect when you consider that HD 184738 is surrounded by dust that’s elementally very similar to the material that the Earth formed from. The origin of this dust is uncertain, but one could easily imagine that it’s all that remains of a once robust family of planets.

via ESA/Hubble and Jean-Christophe Lambry

Photo: The glowing remains of the once sun-like star HD 184738. Credit: ESA/Hubble and NASA