A doomed star has been caught in the act of shedding its gassy skin in a new photograph from the Hubble Space Telescope.
The new Hubble photo of the dying star reveals an odd cloud of gas around the object that is actually the outer layers of the star's atmosphere, which are being blown out in jets to create vast lobes in space. While beautiful, the lobes are rare, short-lived formations around the star and are a telltale sign that death looms near, astronomers said.
"As stars similar to the sun age, they swell into red giant stars, and when this phase ends they start to shed their atmospheres," Hubble telescope scientists said in a statement.
The sun is about 4.6 billion years old, and is expected to last another 5 billion years before puffing up into a red giant and dying.
The new Hubble photo, released Tuesday, shows the star IRAS 19475+3119, which sits about 15,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus (the Swan). Two different lobe-like gas shells from the star's atmosphere ? each positioned at a different angle ? can be seen in the photo. [More Hubble telescope photos]
This star was first spotted in 1983 by the IRAS satellite, which detected the intense infrared emissions coming from the object. But the future is bleak for the star.
As the star continues to shed its atmosphere, its hotter core will eventually be revealed, Hubble scientists said. When that happens, the gas surrounding the star will begin glowing brilliantly to create a planetary nebula.
Despite their name, planetary nebulas have nothing to do with alien planets. They got their title because of their fuzzy planet-like appearance when viewed through small telescopes.
But the IRAS 19475+3119 isn't completely dead yet. Currently, it is what astronomers call a protoplanetary nebula.
Astronomers used Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys to take the dying star's portrait. The once-broken camera was fixed in May 2009 during NASA's final repair mission to Hubble by astronauts.
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