The sun’s final light show
Scientists have long known how our sun will die: Some 5 billion years from now, it will burn its last supply of hydrogen, swell into a red giant, and swallow Mercury and Venus before collapsing. What will happen after that collapse, however, has not been so clear. Many thought the sun would shrink down to a dim compacted core—a white dwarf—but a new study argues it will leave a far brighter legacy. After forming a red giant, researchers say, the sun will shed half its mass as its outer layers are blasted off into space. The remaining core will then heat up far quicker than previous studies have suggested, radiating ultraviolet light and X-rays that will hit the ejected gas and dust, turning them into a ring of brightly glowing plasma that will shine for some 10,000 years. “If you lived in the Andromeda galaxy, 2 million light-years away,” study co-author Albert Zijlstra tells TheGuardian.com, “you’d still be able to see it.” You won’t be able to watch the light show from Earth: As the sun ages, it will grow ever brighter, and in the next 2 billion years will get hot enough to boil away the oceans.