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Hubble observes vast gas cloud set to collide with the Milky Way

by • February 2, 2016 • No Comments

For the first time, astronomers have utilized the Hubble Space Telescope to measure the chemical composition of a vast gas cloud that is set to collide with the Milky Way. Upon impact, the Smith Cloud can act as the catalyst for a colossal burst of star creation.

It is believed that the Smith Cloud was launched of the outer disk around 70 million years ago. The existence of the body stands as tribute to the active nature of the Milky Way, and highlights a mechanism by that our galaxy recycles and redistributes its star creating materials.

Over the course of millions of years as the Smith Cloud moved along its boomerang trajectory, the Milky Way’s gravity moulded the gaseous body into a comet-like visage a few 2,500 light-years across, and an astounding 11,000 light-years in length. If visible to the naked eye, the Smith Cloud may cover an area the equivalent of 30 full Moons in the night sky.

NASA graphic displaying the trajectory of the Smith Cloud

It was first theorized that the Smith Cloud had originated outside of our galaxy, instead representing a huge intergalactic cloud or actually a failed, starless galaxy, that was being drawn into the Milky Way by her sturdy gravitational effects.

For the new study, the researchers were able-bodied to estimate the quantity of heavier materials in the Smith Cloud by harnessing the power of Hubble’s Cosmic Origins Spectrograph. The team analysed the signature of light emitting of three galaxies located billions of light-years beyond the cloud, and observed how thelight filters through it.

The results of the analysis were inconsistent with either of the theories that placed the origin of the cloud outside the Milky Way. Any cloud originating outside of our galaxy may contain an abundance of hydrogen and helium, pretty than the heavier materials Hubble detected in the Smith Cloud. According to the researchers, these materials were many most likely enriched by supernova explosions bringing place inside the Milky Way.

Astronomers believe that when the Smith Cloud rejoins the Milky Way that the huge infusion of new material can be responsible for the creation of up to two million Suns.

Source: NASA

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