Hubble offers image of sun-like star's fiery demise

The sporadic appearance of the nebula's stellar shrapnel suggests HD62166 shed its layers episodically.
By Brooks Hays   |   Sept. 26, 2016 at 10:16 AM

GREENBELT, Md., Sept. 26 (UPI) -- A new image captured by Hubble is offering viewers a glimpse of the future of our sun. Recently, the space telescope spotted a dying white dwarf shedding its stellar layers.

No longer capable of fusion, the star has collapsed in on itself, forming a dense and dormant stellar core. Despite being out of fuel, the core remains extremely hot. It's one of the hottest white dwarfs in our galaxy, boasting a surface temperature of 360,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

Stellar relics, small cores shrouded in stellar debris, are scattered throughout the Milky Way. They're called planetary nebulae because early astronomers thought they looked similar to icy giants like Uranus and Neptune.

The white dwarf, HD62166, lies at the center of the planetary nebula known as NGC 2440, located 4,000 light-years from Earth. The sporadic appearance of the nebula's stellar shrapnel suggests HD62166 shed its layers episodically -- a layer in this direction, a layer in that direction. At least one episode sent gas streaming in all directions.

The bipolar nature of its decomposition is evidenced by the bowtie shape of the two-lobed debris field.

The colors in the newly released Hubble image reveal different gases. Blues account for helium. Oxygen is represented by blue-greens. Reds reveal nitrogen and hydrogen.

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