Washington, December 16 (ANI): Astronomers have captured close-up photos of a star writhing in its death throes, which is indicative of the fate that our Sun awaits in the future.
Chi Cygni, the star in question, which is about 550 light-years from Earth, has swollen in size to become a red giant star so large that it would swallow every planet out to Mars in our solar system.
Moreover, it has begun to pulse dramatically in and out, beating like a giant heart.
New close-up photos of the surface of this distant star show its throbbing motions in unprecedented detail.
"This work opens a window onto the fate of our Sun five billion years from now, when it will near the end of its life," said lead author Sylvestre Lacour of the Observatoire de Paris.
As a Sun-like star ages, it begins to run out of hydrogen fuel at its core. Like a car running out of gas, its "engine" begins to splutter.
On Chi Cygni, scientists see those splutterings as a brightening and dimming, caused by the star's contraction and expansion.
Stars at this life stage are known as Mira variables after the first such example, Mira "the Wonderful," discovered by David Fabricius in 1596.
As it pulses, the star is puffing off its outer layers, which in a few hundred thousand years will create a beautifully gleaming planetary nebula.
Chi Cygni pulses once every 408 days. At its smallest diameter of 300 million miles, it becomes mottled with brilliant spots as massive plumes of hot plasma roil its surface.
As it expands, Chi Cygni cools and dims, growing to a diameter of 480 million miles - large enough to engulf and cook our solar system's asteroid belt.
For the first time, astronomers have photographed these dramatic changes in detail.
"We have essentially created an animation of a pulsating star using real images," stated Lacour.
"Our observations show that the pulsation is not only radial, but comes with inhomogeneities, like the giant hotspot that appeared at minimum radius," he added. (ANI)