An international team of astronomers have racked their brains to envision the exact moment the sun ceases to be and transforms into the next stage of its lifecycle.
Up until now, scientists typically agreed the sun lacked the mass required to erupt into a so-called planetary nebula.
Instead it was thought the sun would devolve into a white dwarf star – a star’s core remnant composed of electron-degenerate matter comparable in volume to Earth.
But the reachers have now questioned that assumption to instead suggest the sun’s death will explode in a stellar cloud of gas and dust after developing a new model for the lifecycle of stars.
Professor Albert Zijlstra from the University of Manchester, who took part in the study published in the journal Nature Astronomy, said new data and models can predict the lifecycle of various sized and aged stars.
The space boffin explained: “When a star dies it ejects a mass of gas and dust—known as its envelope—into space. The envelope can be as much as half the star’s mass.
“This reveals the star’s core, which by this point in the star’s life is running out of fuel, eventually turning off and before finally dying.
“It is only then the hot core makes the ejected envelope shine brightly for around 10,000 years—a brief period in astronomy. This is what makes the planetary nebula visible
“Some are so bright that they can be seen from extremely large distances measuring tens of millions of light years, where the star itself would have been much too faint to see.”
Over the past two decades when astronomers observed planetary nebula in distant galaxies, the brightest one always appeared to be on the same level of brightness.
This discovery helped scientists calculate the distances between every type of galaxy, but with the new data at hand everything is being questioned.
Prof Zijlstra said: “Old, low mass stars should make much fainter planetary nebulae than young, more massive stars.
The data also suggests stars with lower masses such as our sun are capable of forming planetary nebula.
When compared to other burning gas giants, our sun is neither the biggest nor the smallest out there in the darkness of space.
According to NASA the sun is typical, averaged sized star roughly 1,392,000 km (864,000 miles) in diameter.
NASA explained: “There are bigger stars, and there are smaller stars.
“We have found stars that are 100 times bigger in diameter than our sun. Truly, those stars are enormous.
“We have also seen stars that are just one tenth the size of our sun.”
The implication is scientists should now be able to study the presence of stars many billions years old in distant galaxies.
But crucially the study also shed light onto what will happen when the flaming heart of our solar system reaches the end of its current lifecycle.