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01/28/2016: Monstrous cloud boomerangs back to our galaxy

2016-01-28 | Karen O'Neil

SmithCloud_2016bThough hundreds of enormous high-velocity gas clouds whiz around the outskirts of our galaxy, this so-called “Smith Cloud” is unique because its trajectory is well known.

Hubble Space Telescope astronomers are finding that the old adage, “What goes up, must come down” even applies to an immense cloud of hydrogen gas outside our Milky Way Galaxy. The invisible cloud is plummeting toward our galaxy at nearly 700,000 miles (1,100,000 kilometers) per hour.

Though hundreds of enormous high-velocity gas clouds whiz around the outskirts of our galaxy, this so-called “Smith Cloud” is unique because its trajectory is well known. New Hubble observations suggest it was launched from the outer regions of the galactic disk around 70 million years ago. The cloud was discovered in the early 1960s by Gail Smith, who detected the radio waves emitted by its hydrogen.

The cloud is on a return collision course and is expected to plow into the Milky Way’s disk in about 30 million years. When it does, astronomers believe it will ignite a spectacular burst of star formation, perhaps providing enough gas to make 2 million Suns.

Published by Astronomy Magazine.  See more at: http://www.astronomy.com/news/2016/01/monstrous-cloud-boomerangs-back-to-our-galaxy

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