ROGER HARRIS / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY ROGER HARRIS / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Planetary nebula. Computer artwork of a planetary nebula (white/pink ring) spreading outwards from a star. A planetary nebula has nothing to do with a planet. It is actually a shell of gas ejected from a star near the end of its life. It appears as a ring because the gas is concentrated along the line-of-sight around the edge of the sphere. The glow can arise in particularly violent ejections as the gas impacts with the surrounding gas and dust of interstellar space. The star (centre) will collapse, probably forming a white dwarf star. A white dwarf star is the final stage in the life of a Sun-like star. Its thermonuclear fires are spent and it will slowly cool over trillions of years.
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