SCIENCE
06/02/2013 10:22 am ET

How Ring Nebula Formed Provides Insight To Sun's Demise In Around 5 Billion Years (VIDEO)

As fascinating as the glowing Ring Nebula may be, it's really a sneak peek at what may happen when our sun shuts down.

After all, the iconic ring of gas is the result of a sunlike star dying in the past -- just check out new observations of the nebula in the NASA and ESA video above.

But how exactly is a nebula born from a star's death? "As the star runs out of fuel, intense radiation from its core heats the outer layers and they escape into space," according to the video. And, a beautiful nebula is formed.

Vanderbilt University astronomer Dr. C. Robert O'Dell, who led the Hubble Space Telescope research team behind those detailed observations of the nebula, said in a written statement that studying the Ring Nebula's fate will provide insight into the future demise of our own sun.

"When the sun becomes a white dwarf, it will heat more slowly after it ejects its outer gaseous layers," he said. "The material will be farther away once it becomes hot enough to illuminate the gas. This larger distance means the sun's nebula will be fainter because it is more extended."

So, when is the sun expected to produce a nebula of its own? Don't worry -- the video explains that we have about another five billion years. Whew.

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