The fate of our Sun is unambiguous, determined solely by its mass.
Too small to go supernova, it’s still massive enough to become a red giant when its core’s hydrogen is exhausted.
As the inner regions contract and heat up, the outer portions expand, becoming tenuous and rarified.
The interior fusion reactions generate intense stellar winds, which gently expel the star’s outer layers.
Single stars often shed their outer layers spherically, like 20% of planetary nebulae.
Stars with binary companions frequently produce spirals or other asymmetrical configurations.
But the most common shape for planetary nebulae is a bipolar morphology, containing two opposing jets.
The leading explanation is that many stars rotate rapidly, which generates large-scale magnetic fields.
Those fields accelerate the loosely-held particles populating the outer stellar regions along the dying star’s poles.
NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope delivers the most spectacular images of this natural phenomenon.
By assigning colors to specific elemental and spectral data, scientists create spectacular visualizations of these signatures.
The cold, neutral gas will be boiled off by the central white dwarf in just ~10,000 years.
In approximately 7 billion years, our Sun’s anticipated death should proceed in exactly this manner.