How Can Death Be So Beautiful?
How Can Death Be So Beautiful?
This is how stars die ...
NGC 2818 is a beautiful planetary nebula, the gaseous shroud of a dying sun-like star. It could well offer a glimpse of the future that awaits our own Sun after spending another 5 billion years or so steadily using up hydrogen at its core, and then finally helium, as fuel for nuclear fusion. (NASA, ESA, Hubble Heritage Team, STScI / AURA)

NGC 2818 is a beautiful planetary nebula, the gaseous shroud of a dying sun-like star. It could well offer a glimpse of the future that awaits our own Sun after spending another 5 billion years or so steadily using up hydrogen at its core, and then finally helium, as fuel for nuclear fusion. (NASA, ESA, Hubble Heritage Team, STScI / AURA)

A Sun-like star nearing the end of its lifetime. The exquisite details visible in this pseudo-color composite of two Hubble Space Telescope images show that when the star passed through its Red Giant phase it initially shrugged off its outer atmosphere gently and evenly producing the outer faint spherical shells. As the process continued, material was apparently ejected in dense clumps producing dust clouds in the bright inner regions. The whole ejection process was amazingly rapid, taking only a few thousand years compared to a 10 billion year lifetime typical for Solar type stars. In the end the hot stellar core, now a white dwarf star, was left - seen here as a white dot at the center of the nebula. (NASA, H. Bond/STScl)

A Sun-like star nearing the end of its lifetime. The exquisite details visible in this pseudo-color composite of two Hubble Space Telescope images show that when the star passed through its Red Giant phase it initially shrugged off its outer atmosphere gently and evenly producing the outer faint spherical shells. As the process continued, material was apparently ejected in dense clumps producing dust clouds in the bright inner regions. The whole ejection process was amazingly rapid, taking only a few thousand years compared to a 10 billion year lifetime typical for Solar type stars. In the end the hot stellar core, now a white dwarf star, was left - seen here as a white dot at the center of the nebula. (NASA, H. Bond/STScl)

A Hubble Space Telescope image of a celestial object called the Ant Nebula. The Ant Nebula is located between 3,000 and 6,000 light years from Earth in the southern constellation Norma.
(NASA/Space Telescope Science Institute)

A Hubble Space Telescope image of a celestial object called the Ant Nebula. The Ant Nebula is located between 3,000 and 6,000 light years from Earth in the southern constellation Norma. (NASA/Space Telescope Science Institute)

Ladder-like structures surrounding a dying star. An image, taken with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, reveals startling new details of one of the most unusual nebulae known in our Milky Way. Cataloged as HD 44179, this nebula is more commonly called the

Ladder-like structures surrounding a dying star. An image, taken with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, reveals startling new details of one of the most unusual nebulae known in our Milky Way. Cataloged as HD 44179, this nebula is more commonly called the "Red Rectangle" because of its unique shape and color as seen with ground-based telescopes. NASA; ESA; Hans Van Winckel (Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium); and Martin Cohen (University of California, Berkeley)

This stellar relic, first spied by William Herschel in 1787, is nicknamed the Eskimo Nebula (NGC 2392) because, when viewed through ground-based telescopes, it resembles a face surrounded by a fur parka. In this Hubble telescope image, the 'parka' is really a disk of material embellished with a ring of comet-shaped objects, with their tails streaming away from the central, dying star. Although the Eskimo’s 'face' resembles a ball of twine, it is, in reality, a bubble of material being blown into space by the central star’s intense 'wind' of high-speed material. The Eskimo Nebula is about 5,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Gemini and began forming about 10,000 years ago.
(NASA)

This stellar relic, first spied by William Herschel in 1787, is nicknamed the Eskimo Nebula (NGC 2392) because, when viewed through ground-based telescopes, it resembles a face surrounded by a fur parka. In this Hubble telescope image, the 'parka' is really a disk of material embellished with a ring of comet-shaped objects, with their tails streaming away from the central, dying star. Although the Eskimo’s 'face' resembles a ball of twine, it is, in reality, a bubble of material being blown into space by the central star’s intense 'wind' of high-speed material. The Eskimo Nebula is about 5,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Gemini and began forming about 10,000 years ago. (NASA)

Four massive stars are in the center of this false-color image from NASA’s Spitzer and Hubble Space Telescopes. Infant stars appear as orange-yellow dots embedded in the nebula. (NASA)

Four massive stars are in the center of this false-color image from NASA’s Spitzer and Hubble Space Telescopes. Infant stars appear as orange-yellow dots embedded in the nebula. (NASA)

 familiar sight for northern hemisphere astronomers, the Ring Nebula (M57) is some 2,000 light-years away in the musical constellation Lyra. The gaseous shroud represents outer layers expelled from a dying, sun-like star. (Astro-Cooperation - Stefan Heutz/Wolfgang Ries)

familiar sight for northern hemisphere astronomers, the Ring Nebula (M57) is some 2,000 light-years away in the musical constellation Lyra. The gaseous shroud represents outer layers expelled from a dying, sun-like star. (Astro-Cooperation - Stefan Heutz/Wolfgang Ries)

The dark dusty Keyhole Nebula gets its name from its unusual shape. Officially designated NGC 3324, the Keyhole Nebula is a smaller region superposed on the larger Eta Carina Nebula. These nebulae were created by the dying star Eta Carina, which is prone to violent outbursts during its final centuries. (NOAO, NSF, AURA)

The dark dusty Keyhole Nebula gets its name from its unusual shape. Officially designated NGC 3324, the Keyhole Nebula is a smaller region superposed on the larger Eta Carina Nebula. These nebulae were created by the dying star Eta Carina, which is prone to violent outbursts during its final centuries. (NOAO, NSF, AURA)

This trio of ghostly images from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the disembodied remains of dying stars called planetary nebulae. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Harvard-Smithsonian CfA)

This trio of ghostly images from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the disembodied remains of dying stars called planetary nebulae. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Harvard-Smithsonian CfA)

Several billion years after it’s born, a star dies. It’s death takes another few billion years. Our middle-aged sun is expected to die in some 5 billion years. 

Steps in the Death of Stars About the Size of Our Sun

1. The core runs out of hydrogen fuel, contracts, heats up.
2. The outer layer expands and the star becomes what we call a “red giant.”
3. Heat at the core causes helium to fuse into carbon.
4. The helium is used up, the core cools and expands.
5. Material is ejected, forming the spectacular nebula around the dying star.
6. As the core cools, it becomes a white dwarf, then a black dwarf.

Steps in the Death of Stars Much Larger Than Our Sun

The first three steps are the same as for stars the size of our sun, but then …
4. Carbon is fused into heavier elements, such a oxygen, silicon, iron, and more, because the mass is greater.
5. The core turns to iron and no longer burns.
6. The star collapses and the iron core heats drastically.
7. Protons and electrons merge to form neutrons.
8. This is the most amazing part: Craig Freudenrich, a free-lance science writer, explains in a How Stuff Works article: “In less than a second, the iron core, which is about the size of the Earth, shrinks to a neutron core with a radius of about 6 miles (10 kilometers).”
10. The core eventually explodes under heat and the pressure of collapse, forming a supernova.
11. The remains can form a neutron star or a black hole.

  • Lindstr7

    #8 just blows me away. Less than a SECond. Impossible to wrap my tiny brain around that concept. Then again, every time Sarah Palin opens her mouth I think a black hole is created in the universe.

    • HeyJude

      LOL Hi there, Linds! I’m a few hours behind you….but loved these pictures, they are really beautiful. SP – the black hole that sucks all the intelligence out of a room. :-)

      • Lindstr7

        Hi Jude! Yes amazingly beautiful. I’m taking the liberty of following you today because I know you always find the good stuff lol. I need my “weird science” fix. ((((hugs!!)))

        • HeyJude

          {{{{{Linds!}}}}}}} Yep, you know that’s where you’ll always find me, and they have a couple of new one’s today! Are you on the road again yet? Subaru all road ready and bound for the sunshine? I miss you!!!!

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