When a star dies, it launches into space a mass of gas and dust which can be up to half its mass, according to Professor Albert Zijlstra of the British University of Manchester. For years, scientists thought that the mass of our Sun was too low to create a visible planetary nebula. That, until now when recent observations indicate that our Sun will turn into a planetary nebula, a huge ring of bright interstellar gas and dust.
The transformation into a planetary nebula signals a 90% end of the active life of the stars and the transformation from a red giant to a white dwarf.
To come to the new conclusions, a team of scientists created a new stellar data model to forecast the life cycle of stars and applied this model to measure the brightness of the ejected interstellar gas and dust of stars of different masses and ages.
According to Zijlstra, such an event exposes the star’s nucleus which is getting out of fuel, shutting down before finally dying.
Our Sun will eventually turn into a planetary nebula, a bright ring of interstellar gas and dust
When a star dies, it spits into the outer space volumes of gas and dust known as the star’s envelope, which can be up to half the star’s mass, according to one of the participants in the study, Professor Albert Zijlstra of the British University of Manchester.
“It is at this point that the hot core makes the ejected envelope shine for about 10,000 years and that is what makes the planetary nebula visible,” said Zijlstra.
A few planetary nebulae are so bright, Zijlstra said, that they can be observed from very big distances of a maximum of tens of millions of light years, “from places where the star itself would have been too weak to locate.”
Previous models indicated that to generate a planetary nebula that is visible it was necessary for the star to have at least twice the mass of the Sun.
But now they show that, after the interstellar gas and dust are launched in space, the star begins to warm up to 3 times more quickly than in the previous models, making it possible for a low-mass star to become a planetary nebula. Accordingly, our Sun can become a planetary nebula which will shine for 10,000 years.