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Say hello to the Saturn Nebula Garden-variety stars like the Sun live fairly placid lives…

Say hello to the Saturn Nebula Garden-variety stars like the Sun live fairly placid lives…

Say hello to the Saturn Nebula 👋

Garden-variety stars like the Sun live fairly placid lives in their galactic neighborhoods, casually churning out heat and light for billions of years. When these stars reach retirement age, however, they transform into unique and often psychedelic works of art. This Hubble Space Telescope image of the Saturn Nebula shows the result, called a planetary nebula. While it looks like a piece of wrapped cosmic candy, what we see is actually the outer layers of a dying star.

Stars are powered by nuclear fusion, but each one comes with a limited supply of fuel. When a medium-mass star exhausts its nuclear fuel, it will swell up and shrug off its outer layers until only a small, hot core remains. The leftover core, called a white dwarf, is a lot like a hot coal that glows after a barbecue — eventually it will fade out. Until then, the gaseous debris fluoresces as it expands out into the cosmos, possibly destined to be recycled into later generations of stars and planets.

Using Hubble’s observations, scientists have characterized the nebula’s composition, structure, temperature and the way it interacts with surrounding material. Studying planetary nebulas is particularly interesting since our Sun will experience a similar fate around five billion years down the road.

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