Dr. David Whitehouse hails UK as 'major player' in space industries
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The Sun is around 4.6 billion years old and astronomers believe that it is currently halfway through its life. In 2018, a team of international astronomers said that a planetary nebula, which is a luminous bubble of gas and dust, would be the most likely outcome of the Sun’s death.
But before that, there was evidence which disputed whether that was true. Despite that, it is agreed by many researchers that before its final departure, in five billion years, the Sun will turn into a red giant.
The core of the star is supposed to shrink, but the outer layers will expand out to the orbit of Mars and engulf the Earth in the process if it’s still there.
Evidence suggests that life on Earth would almost certainly have ended before that time comes.
That’s because the Sun’s brightness increases by about 10 percent every billion years.
The increased brightness will evaporate all Earth’s oceans, making the surface too hot for water to even form – a key staple of our diets.
But although the red giant period is somewhat agreed upon by researchers, there has been little known about the period that comes after that.
That was until 2018, when the study used computer modelling to determine that, like 90 percent of other stars, the most likely outcome will be that the Sun will shrink down from a red giant into a white dwarf and will finally end its life as a planetary nebula.
Albert Zijlstra, an astrophysicist from the University of Manchester and co-author of the study, said: “When a star dies it ejects a mass of gas and dust – known as its envelope – into space.
“The envelope can be as much as half the star’s mass. This reveals the star’s core, which by this point in the star’s life is running out of fuel, eventually turning off and before finally dying,”
“It is only then the hot core makes the ejected envelope shine brightly for around 10,000 years – a brief period in astronomy. This is what makes the planetary nebula visible.“
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The data model created by the study authors predicts the life cycle of different types of stars in order to work out the brightness of the planetary nebula associated with different star masses.
Experts now have a clear model to measure our biggest star – the Sun – showing it will only live on briefly longer than previous estimates.
Mr Zijlstra added: “Not only do we now have a way to measure the presence of stars of ages a few billion years in distant galaxies, which is a range that is remarkably difficult to measure, we even have found out what the Sun will do when it dies.”
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