Scientists work out what will happen when the sun dies

In 10 billion years’ time the sun will become a planetary nebula (PA)
In 10 billion years’ time the sun will become a planetary nebula (PA)

In about ten billion years from now, our sun will die, ejecting a mass of gas and dust into space – before its core finally burns out its remaining fuel and goes cold.

For thousands of years, it will glow as a twinkling planetary nebula, scientists say – a glowing cloud of dust in space.

University of Manchester scientists used computer modelling to work out whether our sun will turn into a glowing ‘planetary nebula’ after death.

A planetary nebula marks the end of 90% of all stars active lives and traces the star’s transition from a red giant to a degenerate white dwarf.


But, for years, scientists weren’t sure if the sun in our galaxy would follow the same fate: it was thought to have too low mass to create a visible planetary nebula.

Professor Albert Zijslra says, ‘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.

‘Some are so bright that they can be seen from extremely large distances measuring tens of millions of light years, where the star itself would have been much too faint to see.’