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Massive Cloud Travelling 700,000mph Set To Collide With Our Galaxy

Massive Cloud Travelling 700,000mph Set To Collide With Our Galaxy

NASA is at it again. The space exploration institution has been having a gander into deep space and discovered (or rediscovered) an unusual cloud hurtling towards the Milky Way at 700,000mph.

Like a character in The Walking Dead, the cloud has an interesting, layered backstory.

In 1963, while working in an observatory at Leiden University in the Netherlands, Gail Smith discovered a strange cloud orbiting the Milky Way galaxy (not the chocolate). It contained enough gas to create two million stars the size of our own sun.

Though interesting, her discovery wasn't seen as ground-breaking, and although Smith got to have a huge 'high velocity' cloud named after her, that was pretty much that.

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For the next four decades, her discovery was largely ignored. The 'high velocity' clouds were regarded as interesting but not worthy of further observatory eye time.

However, in the mid-2000s, an astronomer called Jay Lockman and pals looked closer at the cloud through a high-tech telescope in West Virginia, US, and made some interesting observations, which is the least you'd expect from someone working at an observatory.

Lockman and his team were able to calculate the cloud's orbit and discovered that it's on a collision course with the Milky Way. In 30 million years (give or take), it will collide with our galaxy but, don't panic, it won't pose a threat to the Milky Way (it's tiny by comparison).

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Instead, a compression of gas will result in a fantastic dispersion of stars that will look totally awesome, or would if we'd not all been dead for around 30 million years by that point.

Smith's Cloud, as it's imaginatively called, has been carefully monitored using the Hubble Telescope's Cosmic Origin Spectrograph. Pretty cool.

Sulphur has a different spelling in America. Credit: NASA
Sulphur has a different spelling in America. Credit: NASA

Andrew Fox of the Space Telescope Science Institute said: "We don't fully understand the Smith's Cloud origin. There are two theories... One is that it was blown out of the Milky Way, perhaps by a cluster of Supernova explosion. The other is that the Smith's Cloud is an extragalactic object that has been captured by the Milky Way."

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Fox and his team used the Hubble Telescope to take a peek into the cloud. They found a high amount of sulphur in Smith's Cloud not dissimilar to the amount of sulphur in the outer reaches of our own Milky Way, which means the two are related, like cousins, or feuding brothers. Think Liam and Noel.

Only time (lots of it) will tell what will become of Smith's Cloud, and scientists would still like to know how it's remained intact all these years as well as how it was blown out into the universe.

Watch this space. Actually, don't. You could be waiting a while.

Featured Image Credit: NASA

Topics: Science, Nasa, space

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Ronan O'Shea

Ronan J O'Shea is a freelance journalist from London who has written for titles including LADbible, Headspace, The Independent, National Geographic Traveller and New York Post. Contact him at [email protected]