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Incoming Collision! Massive Gas Cloud Heading Towards Milky Way, NASA Says

Oct 11, 2016 04:31 AM EDT
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A massive gas cloud is heading towards our galaxy and the collision will result to formation of millions of new stars.

According to Space.com, Smith's Cloud will run over the "Perseus Arm" of the Milky Way galaxy in about 30 million years. A video about it was released by NASA on Friday.

Motherboard said the Smith's Cloud, traveling towards our galaxy at the breakneck pace of 700,000 miles per hour, was first seen in 1963 by radio astronomer named Gail Smith.

Although Smith's Cloud is very small compared to the enormous spiral of stars that makes up our galaxy, the collision has heightened the interest of scientists because the composition of the cloud had not been identified for a long time.

According to the scientists, the cloud's composition would determine its origin.
"We don't fully understand the Smith Cloud's origin," said Andrew Fox of the Space Telescope Science Institute to Lakeconews. "There are two leading theories. One is that it was blown out of the Milky Way, perhaps by a cluster of supernova explosions. The other is that the Smith Cloud is an extragalactic object that has been captured by the Milky Way."


Fox's group observed the clouds using the Hubble Space Telescope's Cosmic Origins Spectrograph and found that the cloud contains sulfur.

By analyzing the amount of light Smith's Cloud absorbs, the astronomers were able to measure the abundance of sulfur in the cloud. A gas from outside the galaxy should contain pristine hydrogen only.

"The abundance of sulfur in Smith's Cloud is similar to the abundance of sulfur in the outer disk of our own Milky Way," Fox said.

This implies that the cloud originated in the Milky Way's outer edges and not in intergalactic space as some have speculated, Daily Galaxy reported.

The sulfur present also indicates that it was tainted by material from stars. The scientists suggest that the Smith's cloud was once part of our Milky Way but was somehow expelled about 70 million years ago. Meanwhile, NASA said the collision would happen thousands of light years away from earth, so the event does not pose any danger to planet earth.

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