The Death of the Sun 

Will leave behind a hot, shining corpse called a white dwarf

This image of NGC 2440 shows the colourful
This image of NGC 2440 shows the colourful “last hurrah” of a star like our Sun. The star is ending its life by casting off its outer layers of gas, which formed a cocoon around the star’s remaining core. Ultraviolet light from the dying star makes the material glow. The burned-out star, called a white dwarf, is the white dot in the centre. Credits: NASA/Hubble

Space news (astrophysics: the death of a Sun-like star; planetary nebula NGC 2440) – 4,000 light-years from Earth toward the constellation Puppis, watching the stunning, colorful last moments of a star like our own Sun –

Death is not extinguishing the light: it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come (quote by Rabindranath Tagore)

NGC 2440 is another planetary nebula ejected by a dying star, but it has a much more chaotic structure than NGC 2346. The central star of NGC 2440 is one of the hottest known, with a surface temperature near 200,000 degrees Celsius. The complex structure of the surrounding nebula suggests to some astronomers that there have been periodic oppositely directed outflows from the central star, somewhat similar to that in NGC2346, but in the case of NGC 2440 these outflows have been episodic, and in different directions during each episode. The nebula is also rich in clouds of dust, some of which form long, dark streaks pointing away fromthe central star. In addition to the bright nebula, which glows becauseof fluorescence due to ultraviolet radiation from the hot star, NGC 2440 is surrounded by a much larger cloud of cooler gas which is invisible in ordinary light but can be detected with infrared telescopes. NGC 2440 lies about 4,000 light-years from Earth in thedirection of the constellation Puppis. The Hubble Heritage team made this image from observations of NGC 2440acquired by Howard Bond (STScI) and Robin Ciardullo (Penn State). Credit: NASA/ESA and The Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI).
NGC 2440 is a planetary nebula ejected by a dying star, with a little bit of extra character thrown in for visual entertainment. The central star of NGC 2440 has a surface temperature of around 200,000 degrees Celsius and chaotic nature suggesting periodic oppositely flowing outbursts, similar to the process seen in NGC 2346. In the case of this planetary nebula, however,  the outflows were periodic, and in different directions during each period. The Hubble Heritage team made this image from observations of NGC 2440 acquired by Howard Bond (STScI) and Robin Ciardullo (Penn State).
Credit: NASA/ESA and The Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/STScI).

Around 5 billion years in the future, give or take a hundred million, our Sun’s expected to send last hurrahs to the cosmos as seen here in this Hubble Telescope image of planetary nebula NGC 2440. Casting off its outer layers of gas forming a cocoon around the burned-out remains called a white dwarf, it will glow as ultraviolet light it emits strikes the material surrounding it. The Milky Way galaxy’s sprinkled with similar stellar objects astronomers in the 18th and 19th centuries named planetary nebula due to their resemblance when viewed through small telescopes of the time to the disks of distant Uranus and Neptune. Shining at a surface temperature of more than 360,000 degrees Fahrenheit (200,000 degrees Celsius), NGC 2440’s one of the hottest planetary nebula discovered during the human journey to the beginning of space and time. 

It may look like a butterfly, but it's bigger than our Solar System. NGC 2346 is a planetary nebula made of gas and dust that has evolved into a familiar shape. At the heart of the bipolar planetary nebula is a pair of close stars orbiting each other once every sixteen days. The tale of how the butterfly blossomed probably began millions of years ago, when the stars were farther apart. The more massive star expanded to encompass its binary companion, causing the two to spiral closer and expel rings of gas. Later, bubbles of hot gas emerged as the core of the massive red giant star became uncovered. In billions of years, our Sun will become a red giant and emit a planetary nebula - but probably not in the shape of a butterfly, because the Sun has no binary star companion.
Planetary nebula NGC 2346 looks like a butterfly to many viewers, but you could comfortably fit our solar system within its boundaries. Two stars orbit closely together within every sixteen days. In a few billion years, our Sun will expand to become a red giant star and eject material to create a similar looking planetary nebula. Scientists think it will look different, however, because our Sun has no companion star. Credit: Massimo Stiavelli (STScI), Inge Heyer (STScI) et al., & the Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/ STScI/ NASA)

Study of this planetary nebula’s chaotic structure suggests it shed its outer layers of mass in episodic outbursts heading in different directions as seen in the two bowtie-shaped lobes observed in the image at the top. Long, dark clouds of dust forming dark streaks traveling away from NGC 2440 can also be seen, along with expelled helium indicated by blue, oxygen highlighted in blue-green, and nitrogen and hydrogen in red. Matter expelled by the white dwarf glows in different colors, depending on its composition, density, and distance from the hot star.

A full-disk multiwavelength extreme ultraviolet image of the sun taken by SDO on March 30, 2010. False colors trace different gas temperatures. Reds are relatively cool (about 60,000 Kelvin, or 107,540 F); blues and greens are hotter (greater than 1 million Kelvin, or 1,799,540 F). Credits: NASA/Goddard/SDO AIA Team
This is a full-disk multiwavelength extreme ultraviolet image of the sun taken by SDO on March 30, 2010. False colors trace different gas temperatures. Reds are relatively cool (about 60,000 Kelvin, or 107,540 F); blues and greens are hotter (greater than 1 million Kelvin, or 1,799,540 F). In a few billion years it will expand into a red giant star and eject material that will become a similar, but different, looking planetary nebula than NGC 2440. Credits: NASA/Goddard/SDO AIA Team

The final days of stars like the Sun

The present theory concerning the final days of a white dwarf star says it will end its days as a black dwarf star. Unknown billions of years in the future, astronomers believe white dwarf stars could stop emitting light and heat and become cold, stellar bodies. Cold, dark stars our telescopes and present technology would have extreme difficulty detecting accept for the effects of their gravity wells on objects traveling nearby. Unfortunately, our universe is only about 14 billions years old, which is too young for black dwarf stars to exist, if the theory is correct. 

Read about NASA’s recently issued challenge to young innovators to “Think Outside the Box”.

Learn more about NASA’s Next Generation Wide-field Infrared Survey Telescope.

Discover how astronomers measure distances to objects on the other side of the Milky Way.

Learn more about NASA’s contributions to the human journey to the beginning of space and time here.

Learn more about the Sun.

Discover more about planetary nebula here.

Learn more about white dwarf stars.

Learn more about black dwarf stars.

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The Helix Nebula: The Eye of God

Expelled outer layers of white dwarf glowing brightly in the infrared 

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Space news (astrophysics: planetary nebula; Helix Nebula) – 650 light-years from Earth toward the constellation Aquarius – 

This composite image shows a visually stunning planetary nebula labeled “The Eye of God” more serious observers call the Helix Nebula (NGC 7293). Planetary nebula are the remains of a dying star much like our own Sol, only 5 billion years in the future. At this time the Sun will run out of hydrogen to use as its fuel source for the fusion process and will start using helium to create heavier carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen. Once it runs out of helium to fuse, it will die and expel its outer gas layers, leaving a tiny, hot core called a white dwarf. An Earth-sized core so dense a teaspoon full would weigh more than a few black rhinos. 

First discovered in the 18th century, planetary nebula like the Helix Nebula emit across a similar, broad spectrum from ultraviolet to infrared. The image shown at the top uses a combination of ultraviolet radiation collected by NASA’s Galaxy Evolution Explorer ((GALEX in blue(0.15 to 2.3 microns)) and infrared light detected by their Spitzer Space Telescope ((red(8 to 24 microns) and green(3.6 to 4.5 microns)) and Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer ((WISE in red(3.4 to 4.5 microns)) showing the subtle differences observed in the different wavelengths of light emitted by ghostly celestial objects like NGC 7293 and NGC 6369 (The Little Ghost). 

Dust makes this cosmic eye look red. This eerie Spitzer Space Telescope image shows infrared radiation from the well-studied Helix Nebula (NGC 7293), which is a mere 700 light-years away in the constellation Aquarius. The two light-year diameter shroud of dust and gas around a central white dwarf has long been considered an excellent example of a planetary nebula, representing the final stages in the evolution of a sun-like star. Spitzer data show the nebula's central star is itself immersed in a surprisingly bright infrared glow. Models suggest the glow is produced by a dust debris disk. Even though the nebular material was ejected from the star many thousands of years ago, the close-in dust could be generated by collisions in a reservoir of objects analogous to our own solar system's Kuiper Belt or cometary Oort cloud. Formed in the distant planetary system, the comet-like bodies have otherwise survived even the dramatic late stages of the star's evolution. Image credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, Kate Su (Steward Obs, U. Arizona) et al.
Dust makes this cosmic eye look red. This eerie Spitzer Space Telescope image shows infrared radiation from the well-studied Helix Nebula (NGC 7293), which is a mere 700 light-years away in the constellation Aquarius. The two light-year diameter shroud of dust and gas around a central white dwarf has long been considered an excellent example of a planetary nebula, representing the final stages in the evolution of a sun-like star.
Spitzer data show the nebula’s central star is itself immersed in a surprisingly bright infrared glow. Models suggest the glow is produced by a dust debris disk. Even though the nebular material was ejected from the star many thousands of years ago, the close-in dust could be generated by collisions in a reservoir of objects analogous to our own solar system’s Kuiper Belt or cometary Oort cloud. Formed in the distant planetary system, the comet-like bodies have otherwise survived even the dramatic late stages of the star’s evolution.
Image credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, Kate Su (Steward Obs, U. Arizona) et al.

Astronomers have studied planetary nebulae like the Helix Nebula and M2-9 (Wings of a Butterfly Nebula) as much as any recorded during the human journey to the beginning of space and time. The remnant of a rapidly evolving star near the end of its lifespan, the white dwarf star is a tiny, barely perceptible point of light at the center of the nebula in this composite image. Thousands of planetary nebula have been detected within a distance of about 100 million light-years of Earth and astronomers estimate about 10,000 exist in the Milky Way. Making planetary nebula a relatively common celestial mystery observed as we trace our roots to their beginning. 

Watch this YouTube video on the Helix Nebula.

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This collage of planetary nebula images was put together by NASA technicians to express the beauty and wonder of planetary nebula. Credits: NASA

Read and learn about the icy blue wings of planetary nebula Hen 2-437.

Read about planetary nebula Menzel 2.

Learn about the last days of planetary nebula Hen 2-362.

Learn more about the Helix Nebula here

Read and learn more about planetary nebulae

Join the space journey of NASA here

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Discover the Spitzer Space Telescope here

Read and discover more about NGC 6369. 

Learn more about what NASA’s WISE has discovered about the infrared cosmos here

Discover the Wings of a Butterfly Nebula.  

The Icy Blue Wings of Hen 2-437

A wintery bipolar planetary nebula

In this cosmic snapshot, the spectacularly symmetrical wings of Hen 2-437 show up in a magnificent icy blue hue. Hen 2-437 is a planetary nebula, one of around 3000 such objects known to reside within the Milky Way. Located within the faint northern constellation of Vulpecula (The Fox), Hen 2-437 was first identified in 1946 by Rudolph Minkowski, who later also discovered the famous and equally beautiful M2-9 (otherwise known as the Twin Jet Nebula). Hen 2-437 was added to a catalogue of planetary nebula over two decades later by astronomer and NASA astronaut Karl Gordon Henize. Planetary nebulae such as Hen 2-437 form when an aging low-mass star — such as the Sun — reaches the final stages of life. The star swells to become a red giant, before casting off its gaseous outer layers into space. The star itself then slowly shrinks to form a white dwarf, while the expelled gas is slowly compressed and pushed outwards by stellar winds. As shown by its remarkably beautiful appearance, Hen 2-437 is a bipolar nebula — the material ejected by the dying star has streamed out into space to create the two icy blue lobes pictured here.
In this cosmic snapshot, the spectacularly symmetrical wings of Hen 2-437 show up in a magnificent icy blue hue. Hen 2-437 is a planetary nebula, one of around 3000 such objects known to reside within the Milky Way. Located within the faint northern constellation of Vulpecula (The Fox), Hen 2-437 was first identified in 1946 by Rudolph Minkowski, who later also discovered the famous and equally beautiful M2-9 (otherwise known as the Twin Jet Nebula). Credit: Hubble/NASA/ESA 

Space news (March 09, 2016) – deep within the faint northern constellation Vulpecula (The Fox) –

Just one of over 3,000 spectacular planetary nebula astronomers have detected hidden within the Milky Way, the stunningly symmetrical icy blue wings of Hen 2-437 float upon the stars of Vulpecula in the Hubble image above. 

Just an icy blue cosmic moth adrift upon a sea of stars, Hen 2-437 is a bipolar nebula similar to hourglass shaped PN Hb 12 (Hubble 12) and the stunning M2-9 (The Twin Jet Nebula).

An example of a sun-like star in the final stages of its life cycle, material ejected by the dying star streamed outward into space to create the two icy blue wings of Hen 2-427 seen here. 

Sol will one day, billions of years in the future, swell to become a red giant and then expel its gaseous outer layers into space. Shrinking down to form a white dwarf, while ejected material is slowly compressed and pushed outward by stellar winds. The cast off gas streams outward into space to form the two icy blue lobes of Hen 2-437.

Watch this video on the icy blue wings of Hen 2-437

Learn more about two black holes astronomers believe are destined to collide.

Read about the recent observation of gravity waves by astronomers.

Learn more about the youngest, closest black hole to Sol.

Follow the journey of NASA across the solar system and stars here.

Learn more about bipolar planetary nebula.

Learn more about Wolf-Rayet stars.

Planetary Nebula Menzel 2 in Final Stages of Life Cycle

Two white dwarfs shed outer layers of mass to form winding blue clouds of hot gas

This planetary nebula is called PK 329-02.2 and is located in the constellation of Norma in the southern sky. It is also sometimes referred to as Menzel 2, or Mz 2, named after the astronomer Donald Menzel who discovered the nebula in 1922. When stars that are around the mass of the Sun reach their final stages of life, they shed their outer layers into space, which appear as glowing clouds of gas called planetary nebulae. The ejection of mass in stellar burnout is irregular and not symmetrical, so that planetary nebulae can have very complex shapes. In the case of Menzel 2 the nebula forms a winding blue cloud that perfectly aligns with two stars at its centre. In 1999 astronomers discovered that the star at the upper right is in fact the central star of the nebula, and the star to the lower left is probably a true physical companion of the central star. For tens of thousands of years the stellar core will be cocooned in spectacular clouds of gas and then, over a period of a few thousand years, the gas will fade away into the depths of the Universe. The curving structure of Menzel 2 resembles a last goodbye before the star reaches its final stage of retirement as a white dwarf. A version of this image was entered into the Hubble's Hidden Treasures image processing competition by contestant Serge Meunier.
This planetary nebula is called PK 329-02.2 and is located in the constellation of Norma in the southern sky.

Space news (October 16, 2015) – light-years away in the southern constellation Norma –

First discovered during modern times by noted astronomer Donald Menzel in 1922, planetary nebula PK 329-02.2 or Menzel 2 (Mz 2), is composed of a central star and companion sun cocooned in stunning, hot clouds of glowing gas ejected in complex shapes that will fade into the cosmos over the next few thousands of years.

Astrophysicists believe the star at the upper right of the two central stars shining brightly in this Hubble image is the main star of planetary nebula PK 329-02.2. The star just to the lower left of this central star astronomers believe is the companion sun, which is gravitationally tied to the main star.

Over tens of thousands of years, this pair of stars is expected to be cocooned in stunning clouds of hot, glowing gas. Swirling clouds forming a goodbye wave as the main star enters the final stages of its life cycle and starts to enjoy retirement as a white dwarf star

You can discover more about the journey of the Hubble Space Telescope here.

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Learn why planetary scientists think they have found absolute evidence for the presence of water on Saturn’s moon Enceladus.

Read about the Twin Jet Nebula and its cosmic wings.

Learn more about the plans of private firm Planetary Resources Inc to mine as asteroid in the near future and how to take part in the journey.

A Brief Moment in Cosmic Time

Tens of thousands of human years in length

A dying star’s final moments are captured in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The death throes of this star may only last mere moments on a cosmological timescale, but this star’s demise is still quite lengthy by our standards, lasting tens of thousands of years! The star’s agony has culminated in a wonderful planetary nebula known as NGC 6565, a cloud of gas that was ejected from the star after strong stellar winds pushed the star’s outer layers away into space. Once enough material was ejected, the star’s luminous core was exposed and it began to produce ultraviolet radiation, exciting the surrounding gas to varying degrees and causing it to radiate in an attractive array of colours. These same colours can be seen in the famous and impressive Ring Nebula (heic1310), a prominent example of a nebula like this one. Planetary nebulae are illuminated for around 10 000 years before the central star begins to cool and shrink to become a white dwarf. When this happens, the star’s light drastically diminishes and ceases to excite the surrounding gas, so the nebula fades from view. A version of this image was entered into the Hubble’s Hidden Treasures basic image competition by contestant Matej Novak.

Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Matej Novak
Text credit: European Space Agency

Space news (August 14, 2015) – planetary nebula NGC 6565; 6 degrees off center of the Milky Way, 15,200 light-years toward constellation Sagittarius, about halfway to the central core 

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope captured this image of a dying star during the final moments of its life cycle. Lasting tens of thousands of years on human time scales, the death of this star is but a brief moment in cosmic time.

Called planetary nebula NGC 6565, Hen 2-362 or ESO 456-70, depending on the space institute or astronomer you ask, this object will eventually shrink down to become a white dwarf star. 

Similar to the color display to the well-known Ring Nebula (heic 1310), the stunning cloud of colorful gas seen here was ejected from the dying star due to strong stellar winds pushing the outer layers into space. The luminous core viewed was exposed in the process, which allowed ultraviolet radiation to excite the surrounding gas to different temperatures, producing this visually attractive display of color. 

NASA scientists study planetary nebula like NGC 6565 to better understand the life cycle and death of stars that end their lives as white dwarf stars. The data obtained through the study of this planetary nebula will be added to the material already obtained concerning similar stellar objects. This will help astrophysics develop better ideas and theories concerning the life of stars that end their days as white dwarf stars.

You can learn more about the discoveries of the Hubble Space Telescope here.

Read more about planetary nebula here.

You can learn and follow NASA’s mission to the stars here.

Learn more about infant suns and their life cycles.

Read about NASA’s search for ultra-light weight materials with the right stuff to help enable the human journey to the beginning of space and time.

Read about ancient dust containing metal ions falling onto Mars atmosphere from Oort Cloud comet.

 

 

 

Planetary Nebula NGC 6818 Shows a Different Face

Little Gem Nebula shows off complex, knotty filament structures with a bright, enclosed central gas bubble surrounded by larger, more diffuse gas clouds

This colourful bubble is a planetary nebula called NGC 6818, also known as the Little Gem Nebula. It is located in the constellation of Sagittarius (The Archer), roughly 6000 light-years away from us. The rich glow of the cloud is just over half a light-year across — humongous compared to its tiny central star — but still a little gem on a cosmic scale. When stars like the Sun enter retirement, they shed their outer layers into space to create glowing clouds of gas called planetary nebulae. This ejection of mass is uneven, and planetary nebulae can have very complex shapes. NGC 6818 shows knotty filament-like structures and distinct layers of material, with a bright and enclosed central bubble surrounded by a larger, more diffuse cloud. Scientists believe that the stellar wind from the central star propels the outflowing material, sculpting the elongated shape of NGC 6818. As this fast wind smashes through the slower-moving cloud it creates particularly bright blowouts at the bubble’s outer layers. Hubble previously imaged this nebula back in 1997 with its Wide Field Planetary Camera 2, using a mix of filters that highlighted emission from ionised oxygen and hydrogen (opo9811h). This image, while from the same camera, uses different filters to reveal a different view of the nebula. A version of the image was submitted to the Hubble’s Hidden Treasures image processing competition by contestant Judy Schmidt.

Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Judy Schmidt

Space news (August 15, 2015) – approximately 6,000 light-years toward the constellation Sagittarius (The Archer) –

When NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope first looked at the Little Gem Nebula (NGC 6818) using the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 back in 1997, the image obtained was done so with filters that highlighted ionized oxygen and hydrogen in the planetary nebula.

This image of the Little Gem Nebula shows off complex structures with a bright, enclosed central gas bubble surrounded by larger, more diffuse gas clouds obtained using different filters. Offering the human journey to the beginning of space and time a totally different view of this spectacular stellar object.  

Our own Sun billions of years in the future will shed its outer layers into space to create a glowing cloud of gas similar to planetary nebula NGC 6818. Space scientists believe the stellar wind created by the star at the center of this planetary nebula provides the force to propel the uneven outflowing mass.

Studying the final days of sun-like stars provides scientists with data concerning the life cycle of stars similar in size and output to the Sun. Data they can use to devise new ideas and theories to delve deeper into the mysteries surrounding the closest star to Earth.

You can find more information on planetary nebula here.

Learn more about NASA’s space mission here.

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Learn about NASA’s New Horizons recent arrival and current exploration of Pluto.

Read about plans to take the human journey to the stars on a billion mile journey to Jupiter’s moon Europa to look for signs of life.

Learn more about main sequence stars like the Sun.