When our sun comes to the end of its roughly 10 billion-year life span, it will swell outward, swallowing Mercury, Venus and perhaps even Earth. A newly released image from NASA and the European Space Agency illustrates just what this might look like.
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The Hubble Space Telescope recently captured the death of a sun-like star occurring roughly 5,000 light-years away in the Rotten Egg Nebula, which is also known by the kinder name the Calabash Nebula (the rotten egg name comes from the fact that it contains a lot of sulphur, which smells like a rotten egg when it’s combined with other elements).
Like our sun, the star contained at the centre of this nebula was a rather ordinary star. But it finally reached the end of its lifespan, exhausting its supply of hydrogen and helium. It swelled into a red giant, blowing its outer layer of gas and dust outward.
The gas that is being expelled in opposite directions by the star in the nebula is moving at an incredible one million kilometres per hour.
Astronomers are happy to catch the star in the act. Typically this process occurs quickly — in astronomical terms. Over the next 1,000 years, the nebula will take form as a ring-shaped planetary nebula.