Scale Solar System Model (03:07)
Peoria, Illinois, features a mosaic of the sun. Curator Sheldon Schafer leads a bicycle tour revealing accurate distances between planets, which are spread out forty miles across neighboring towns.
CoRot Sol 1 (02:01)
Dr. Eva Villaver can predict the solar system's future, based on observations of an older solar twin discovered in 2013. The sun will become brighter as it ages.
Increasing Luminosity (03:20)
Our sun will become brighter due to changes in the balance between nuclear fusion and gravity— similar to a hot air balloon. As the core gets denser, hydrogen burns faster, increasing brightness by 10% every billion years. Walter Kinsman paints a model Earth.
Shifting Habitable Zone (03:51)
Earth's location allows life to thrive, but astrobiologist Lynn Rothschild says it will resemble Venus in two billion years. The Venus Express Probe revealed liquid water and organic compounds once existed. As the sun's luminosity increased, a runaway greenhouse effect raised surface temperatures.
Evolution for a Hotter Planet (02:37)
As the brighter sun evaporates oceans, temperatures could climb by 20 degrees in 500 million years. In Yellowstone National Park, Rothschild studies how life survives in extreme conditions. Plant and animal species may hibernate in summer and be active in winter.
End of Life on Earth (02:33)
In one billion years, the greenhouse effect will kill most large species. In two billion years, water will have evaporated; Earth will increasingly resemble Venus. Rothschild believes humans will find a way to survive— such as colonizing Mars.
Red Giant Phase (03:59)
For five billion years, forces of gravity and nuclear fusion will be stable. When fuel runs out, hydrogen gas surrounding the core will begin to fuse— giving the sun access to more fuel, overwhelming gravity and expanding rapidly. Outer planets will warm.
Warming Outer Planets (03:14)
In five billion years, the habitable zone will move out toward Jupiter. Icy moons may melt and provide water for life. Next, Saturn's rings will disappear; icy moons could also provide life support. It will eventually move beyond all planets.
Pluto's Fate (04:22)
The New Horizons mission revealed high peaks on the dwarf planet. Low temperatures alter chemical bonds to make its ice crust as strong as rock, creating mountains. The habitable zone will likely melt the ice, creating conditions for life.
Inner Planet Annihilation (02:22)
In 2012, Villaver discovered a star in Perseus called BD 48740 with a high lithium content orbited by a Jupiter-like planet. Scientists believe the red giant engulfed another planet. The sun may follow the same path.
Solar Expansion Trajectory (02:54)
Around 5.5 billion years from now, the sun will become a red giant, threatening the existence of Mercury, Venus, and Earth. Schafer leads a bicycle tour of the Peoria Solar System Model, demonstrating the sun's annihilation pathway.
Escaping Annihilation (04:28)
Dr. Robert Smith calculated that the sun will expand to 250 times its present size— past Earth's orbit. However, solar winds carry away mass and weaken its gravitational field, expanding planetary orbits. Earth may take Mars' place; Mars could land at the asteroid belt.
Tidal Interactions (03:05)
Villaver uses a carousel and a bicycle to demonstrate how the sun's spin rate will slow when it becomes a red giant, slowing Earth's orbit and drawing Earth in. Smith calculated that the tidal force would be stronger than solar winds— resulting in Earth's annihilation.
Earth's Final Days (03:31)
The world's largest solar furnace focuses 10,000 mirrors on the sun's rays to replicate conditions on Earth when the sun becomes a red giant. Rock will melt, leaving an ocean of molten lava; the planet's iron core will eventually disintegrate inside the red giant.
Sun's Final Phase and Cosmic Rebirth (03:41)
Peoria's Astronomy Society looks for the ring nebula of a dying star. After the red giant stage, the sun will shrink to a white dwarf. Remains of the solar system will return to interstellar space as gas and dust to form new planets.
Credits: The End of the Solar System (00:45)
Credits: The End of the Solar System
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