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Dying Star Offers Glimpse Of How The Sun Will Die

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The sun will be on its final days about 5 billion years from now and an image captured by the Hubble Space Telescope's Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2) gives us a hint at how our solar system's star will die.

The Hubble Space Telescope, which was launched in 1990 and continues to be in operation until now, is among the largest and most versatile astronomy tools in use.  

On Monday, the European Space Agency (ESA) released a photo taken by Hubble's WFPC2, which has also taken many of the Hubble mission's iconic images. The photo showed an image of a planetary nebula known as Kohoutek 4-55.

The nebula was named after its discoverer, Luboš Kohoutec, and is located about 4,600 light-years away from Earth. The sequence was taken in a span of two hours in May 2009 but was recently re-released by the ESA.

Lying in the center of the colorful swirl of gas shown in the image is a star on the throes of death. The star is about as massive as the sun.  

As stars age, the nuclear reaction that makes them shine starts to falter and the wavering generation of energy causes aging stars to pulsate irregularly leading them to cast off their outer layers.

The hot core of the star is then revealed as it sheds the outer gases giving off massive amounts of ultraviolet light. The radiation is responsible for the glow of the gas shells producing the nebula's beauty.

The photo is a composite of three images individually taken at specific wavelengths to distinguish the light from particular gas atoms. The red wavelength represents nitrogen gas, blue shows oxygen and green signifies hydrogen.  

The swirls of gas provide scientists with an idea of the distant future of the sun as the star is expected to die 5 billion years from now. The sun is anticipated to behave in a similar manner, shedding off its outer layer to reveal its burning coal until it gradually cools down to an ember known as white dwarf.

"By that time, Earth will be long gone, burnt to a crisp as the Sun dies," ESA wrote. "But the beauty of our star's passing will shine across the Universe."

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