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The Spring 2011 issue of The Earth Scientist is focused on modernizing seismology education. Thanks to IRIS, you can download this issue for free as a pdf. Print copies are available in our online store.

The Fate of the Sun

Click on image to watch animation.
Image from White Dwarf Research Corp.
In about 5 billion years, the hydrogen in the center of the Sun will start to run out. The helium will get squeezed. This will speed up the hydrogen burning. Our star will slowly puff into a red giant. It will eat all of the inner planets, even the Earth.

As the helium gets squeezed, it will soon get hot enough to burn into carbon. At the same time, the carbon can also join helium to form oxygen. The Sun is not very big compared to some stars. It will never get hot enough in the center to burn carbon and oxygen. These elements will collect in the center of the star. Later it will shed most of its outer layers, creating a planetary nebula, and reveal a hot white dwarf star.

Nearly 99 percent of all stars in the galaxy will end their lives as white dwarfs. By studying the stars that have already changed, we can learn about the fate of our own Sun.

Last modified November 3, 2004 by Travis Metcalfe.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation and NASA, our Founding Partners (the American Geophysical Union and American Geosciences Institute) as well as through Institutional, Contributing, and Affiliate Partners, individual memberships and generous donors. Thank you for your support! NASA AGU AGI NSF