This is what a dying star looks like

By AG Staff/NASA 26 September 2016
Reading Time: < 1 Print this page
Hubble Space Telescope captures the colourful death of a star like our Sun, 4000 light years away.

THIS IMAGE, TAKEN by the Hubble Space Telescope, 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. The white dwarf is one of the hottest known, with a surface temperature of 200,000°C.

These stellar relics are called planetary nebulae. They have nothing to do with planets, but were named as such by 18th- and 19th-century astronomers because, through small telescopes, they looks like the disks of Uranus and Neptune.

In the above image, the nebula (called NGC 2440) has chaotic structure which suggests the star shed its mass episodically. During each outburst, the star expelled material in a different direction – this can be seen in the two bowtie-shaped lobes. The nebula is also rich in clouds of dust, some of which form long, dark streaks pointing away from the star. 

NGC 2440 lies about 4000 light-years from Earth, in the direction of the constellation Puppis.

Our own Sun will eventually burn out and shroud itself with stellar debris, but not for another 5 billion years.

This image was NASA‘s Image of the Day on 24 September 2016.