Allow me to introduce you to U Camelopardalis (or U Cam): a dying, carbon-rich star found in the Camelopardalis constellation (some 1500 light-years away from Earth).  U Cam, which is a star currently in the red-giant phase of stellar evolution, offers us an eerie glimpse into the future of our own Sun, when it swells into a red-giant. Over the course of the ignition of the star's death, U Cam evolved from fusing hydrogen into helium,to covering helium into carbon  (and other heavier elements).

Photo Credit: ESA/Hubble, NASA and H. Olofsson (Onsala Space Observatory)

The star then had to expand exponentially in size in order for it to maintain hydrostatic equilibrium. Eventually, the heat from the core superheated the outer-most layer of the star.. that layer was then ejected into space in an event described as “solar winds on cosmic steroids” by the folks at BadAstronomy. This is currently what is happening to U Cam and is pictured here.

As the star hits this faze, it burns energy at a feverish pace and the star appears much brighter, and thus much bigger, than it really is. In actuality, the star is about the size of a single pixel. Scientists believe this explosion began some 700 years ago and was started by a chain of events that only took about 50 years to complete. Because of how fast these things unfold, U Cam is one of the few stars we have observed at this point in its stellar evolution.

A dead dandelion (Credit: Gitte13)

As a side-note, I personally think it holds great likeness to a dead dandelion. There's something quite beautiful and poetic about it. Especially when you consider how, when dandelions die, the petals wither are replaced with bracts. These bracts then disperse dandelion seeds throughout the region, bringing new life to other plants. This too mirrors U Cam's ultimate fate. When it fully dies, the gas it expels will give birth to new stars. Both are beautiful, fleeting and wither in the wind.

This nebula made our list of the 10 most unusual stellar nebulae. See which nebulae ranked higher here.


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