About 5 thousand million years from now, our Sun will expand into a red giant, swelling to such a size that it may swallow the Earth. It will then begin to shed huge amounts of dust, surrounding itself with an expanding circumstellar envelope (CSE) that ultimately will become a planetary nebula. New insights into this process have been revealed by ESA's Herschel Space Observatory, with PACS instrument which is providing unprecedented images of the complex, outer structure of a nearby CSE.
Some new features in the circumstellar envelope of IRC+10216 (CW Leonis) are indicated in this annotated image. (A) The arc indicates the location of a bow shock, situated about 1 light year from the star; dust shells, corresponding to the ejection of material from the star at (B) 16 000 years, (C) 12 750 years, (D) 2500 years and (E) 1175 years ago are also indicated. Credit: ESA/PACS/MESS Consortia
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