Dying star goes out in style

Day-Glo green planetary nebula captured by Very Large Telescope

For an elderly star’s last gasp, it belches a gassy bubble that shines like a Day-Glo balloon. Using the Very Large Telescope in Chile, scientists at the European Southern Observatory snapped a picture of one dying star’s shimmering shell: a planetary nebula dubbed IC 1295.

A glowing bubble of gas, called a planetary nebula, surrounds a dying old star located 3,300 light-years away in this image captured by the Very Large Telescope in Chile. Courtesy of the European Southern Observatory

The distant, old star — located about 3,300 light-years away in the constellation Scutum — is probably billions of years old. But on a human scale, it still has a lot of life to live. The old-timer’s colorful orb will twinkle for at least 10,000 more years.

Depending on which chemicals form the gaseous shell, a star’s planetary nebula can glimmer a rainbow of candy-colored hues. For this nebula, oxygen paints the bubble a brilliant glowing green.

Meghan Rosen is a staff writer who reports on the life sciences for Science News. She earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology with an emphasis in biotechnology from the University of California, Davis, and later graduated from the science communication program at UC Santa Cruz.

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