Also this great fiery drama queen, who is our sun, will one day leave the stage.
But when it makes its last bow, not a lot of audience will be left.
In about 5 billion years – the hard data scientists call for this last curtain – we'll be gone for a long time. Even the planets as we know them will not exist anymore.
But which drama we will miss. The sun's agony is likely to begin when it runs out of hydrogen, the gas that turns the sun into helium, literally illuminating our lives. And when it stifles, the sun swells up to a red giant and swallows Mercury and Venus neatly. As you can imagine, for anyone loitering around our planet, it will become increasingly uncomfortable as the oceans tend to evaporate.
Then the body of the oversized red giant will gradually flake off as it compacts into a dense knot of heaven, a white dwarf. This is pretty much the established thinking in scientific circles of how an average star will end up like our sun.
But according to a new mathematical model, the setting of the sun could trigger an unexpected dramatic kick.
"When a star dies, it ejects a mass of gas and dust ̵
But this massive envelope will still lurk around the White Dwarf – and if Zijlstra's team is right, it will provide a spectacular glowing nebula that could be seen several light-years away.
The Ring Nebula or Messier 57 or NGC 6720 is a planetary nebula in the northern constellation of the Lyra. (Photo: NASA)
"The hot core makes the ejected shell glow bright for about 10,000 years – a short period in astronomy," notes Zijlstra. "This makes the planetary nebula visible, some so bright that they can be seen from extremely long distances measuring tens of millions of light-years, where the star itself would have been far too weak to see."
Earlier theories have shown that our sun is not big enough to illuminate the surrounding hull. Therefore, this little white dwarf would not lead to a visible fog. But the new data models suggest the opposite.
They show that a dying star, when it ejects its shell, heats up much more intense than previously thought. A star with a small mass, like ours, would probably ignite a very visible planetary nebula.
The model suggests that the dust and gas, once lit, will look much like a glowing halo. A fitting last marker for a star that has served us all so brilliantly.