Out in the vastness of space, peering back at us like the giant fiery eye of The Dark Lord, Sauron, is the Ring Nebula — a huge expanding explosion of star-stuff — and astronomers have used our latest and best images of this spectacular explosion to give us insights into what will happen when our own Sun dies.
Astronomers have known about the Ring Nebula for over 230 years, but it wasn't until much more recently that they had access to the Hubble Space Telescope, to capture the incredible details of the nebula, and then produce this amazing video showing a 3-dimensional view of its full structure.
The nebula is roughly 2,000 light years away from us (just shy of 20 quadrillion kilometres), and from side to side it stretches across about one light year (~10 trillion km) of space.
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The (apparently) unnamed star at the centre of the nebula blew off its outer layers sometime around 4,000 years ago, leaving behind its core, which compacted down into a white dwarf. This is the same fate that the Sun will go through, when its nuclear furnace finally runs out of fuel around five billion years from now, so these detailed views of the nebula are giving astronomers something of a preview look at our Sun's post-mortem.
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