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Dying Sun-like Star Throws Off Gas Cloud in New Photo

NGC 2440 dying star
This image, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, depicts the planetary nebula NGC 2440 — an enormous cloud of gas cast off by a dying star. That star, now a white dwarf, is a white dot at the nebula's center. (Image credit: NASA, ESA, and K. Noll (STScI))

A sun-like star's death comes into sharp view in a new picture from the Hubble Space Telescope.

The image shows the star shedding its outer gas layers, which are slowly bleeding away into space. The gas glows due to ultraviolet light from the dying star. In the center, a white dot is visible; it's the remains of the star, called a white dwarf. Streaks of dust are also visible.

Earth's sun will meet that same fate, but not for another 5 billion years. There are many dying stars like this around the galaxy, which are called "planetary nebulae" even though their appearance does not come from planets.

"Eighteenth- and 19th-century astronomers called them the name because through small telescopes they resembled the disks of the distant planets Uranus and Neptune," NASA officials said in a statement

This nebula, called NGC 2440, has one of the hottest known white dwarfs in its heart. The white dwarf has a surface temperature of more than 360,000 degrees Fahrenheit (200,000 degrees Celsius). Because the nebula's gas is not distributed evenly, the star may have shed its mass in fits and bursts, throwing off material in different directions every time, the scientists suggested.

NGC 2440 is roughly 4,000 light-years from Earth, in the constellation Puppis. The image is colorized to show different types of gas surrounding the star, which all glow differently due to their composition, density and distance to the star. Blue is helium, blue-green is oxygen, and red is nitrogen and hydrogen.

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Elizabeth Howell
Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she also tackles topics like diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, three space shuttle missions in Florida, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Her latest book, Leadership Moments from NASA, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.