The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has caught a beautiful view of NGC 5307, a planetary nebula in its final stages of life.
NGC 5307 lies about 10,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Centaurus.
A planetary nebula is a ring-shaped nebula formed when a dying, sun-like star collapses in on itself and sheds its outer layers of gas into space. That’s exactly what will happen with our solar system.
Just like our sun, these types of stars will transform into red giants at the end of their lives. The process of nuclear fusion happens in a star’s core, therefore generating energy. This process tries to break the star apart and only the star’s gravity prevents this action from occurring.
At the end of the red giant phase of a star, these forces become unbalanced. Thus, the core of the star collapses in on itself and its surface layers get violently thrown outward. Then, all that remains of the star is what we see in the above image: glowing outer layers surrounding a white dwarf star, the remnants of the red giant star’s core.
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However, these glowing outer layers are still moving and spreading out in space. In about a few thousand years they will diminish and all that will remain is the dimly illuminated white dwarf.