Hidden in the center of the colorful swirl of gases is a dying star whose mass is approximately the mass of the Sun.
With the aging of the stars, the nuclear reactions that sustain their brilliance begin to diminish. Unstable energy production causes the stars to pulse irregularly, ejecting their outer layers into space. This is how their super-hot core is revealed. It emits huge amounts of ultraviolet light. The radiation causes the gas layers to shine, creating something spectacular like the fragile beauty of the nebula.
The star of the image released by the European Space Agency (ESA) is Kohoutek 4-55. It is named after its discoverer – Czech astronomer Lubos Kohoutek, and is located 4,600 light-years from Earth in the direction of the constellation Swan.
The image is the latest of the “beautiful photographs” taken by the Hubble Space Telescope’s WFPC2 camera, which was installed in 1993 and operates until 2009. This camera has done most of Hubble’s iconic photographs.
This photograph contains three different images, each of which is taken at a certain wavelength to isolate the light coming from specific gas atoms. The different wavelengths are color coded to help identify them. Red is nitrogen gas, green is hydrogen and blue is oxygen. The entire series of images was shot in two hours on May 4, 2009.
The gas whirlwind allows us to look ahead in time to the distant future of our Sun. In 5 billion years, our star will begin to die. Her behavior is expected to be similar to that of Kohoutek 4-55. It will free itself from its outer layers, revealing its burning core, which will turn into a white dwarf. At that time the Earth would have long ceased to exist, burned by the dying Sun.