When medium-sized stars die, they undergo a flurry of activity, including one phase of extreme loss of mass. The model simulated the entire process of the star's ejection of the envelope.
But a new study from a group of global researchers, led by Albert Zijlstra from the University of Manchester, gives a pretty good idea of what will happen to the sun when it finally dies. 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. According to this model, the sun does indeed have the required mass to create a planetary nebula. "Even if the Sun becomes rather dim nebula, it will still be visible from neighboring galaxies", said Professor of astrophysics the University of Manchester albert Zijlstra.
Sample reports that in previous models, after our sun blew off its envelope of gas and dust, it would take much too long for the core to heat up enough to turn the dust into a glowing nebula before it dissipated.
The team used trial-and-error to pinpoint two models that indicate key thresholds in the planetary nebulae. "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".
However, the researchers found that the sun was the lowest mass a star could be in order to produce visible planetary nebula.
"What we've shown is that the core will be hot enough in five to 10 thousand years after the outer layers have been ejected, and that is quick enough", said Zijlstra.
They're named planetary nebulae not because they actually have anything to do with planets, but because, when the first ones were discovered by William Herschel in the late 18th century, they were similar in appearance to planets through the telescopes of the time. "Problem solved, after 25 years!" said Zijlstra.
Around 25 years ago, astronomers noticed something peculiar: the brightest planetary nebulae in other galaxies all have about the same level of brightness.
This further explains how stars of varying mass form nebulae with roughly the same brightness.
"We found that stars with mass less than 1.1 times the mass of the sun produce fainter nebula, and stars more massive than 3 solar masses brighter nebulae, but for the rest, the predicted brightness is very close to what had been observed", Zijlstra said.
But, for years, scientists were not sure if the Sun in our galaxy would follow the same fate as it was thought to have too low a mass to create a visible planetary nebula. Once the core ejects the envelope of gas and debris, it heats up three times faster than previously believed.
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