Giant Gas Cloud Is Heading Toward The Milky Way

First Posted: Jan 28, 2016 04:35 PM EST

A massive gas cloud known as the "Smith Cloud" is heading toward the Milky Way. Since its discovery back in the 1960s, researchers have been curious about the cloud's composition, which could able them to determine the giant gas cloud's origin. In this latest study, a team of researchers found that the Smith Cloud contains elements that are similar to the sun. This new finding indicates that the cloud originated from the outer edges of the Milky Way.

The Smith Cloud is a starless cloud that moves at 700,000 miles per hour and it is expected to smash into the Milky Way disk in about 30 million years.

The researchers used Hubble to determine the Smith Cloud's heavy elements. While carrying out their observations, the team noticed the bright cores of three active galaxies that reside billions of light-years away from the giant gas cloud.

The team found that the Smith Cloud is rich in sulfur, similar to the Milky Way's outer disk, which is about 40,000 light-years from the center of the galaxy. The team suspected that the cloud was most likely polluted with material from stars.

"We have found several massive gas clouds in the Milky Way halo that may serve as future fuel for star formation in its disk, but, for most of them, their origins remain a mystery," Nicolas Lehner, coauthor of the study said in a news release.

The researchers claimed that Smith Cloud seem to have had an intimate relationship with the Milky Way, however, it was kicked out of the Milky Way's disk about 70 million years ago. Smith Cloud is now trying worm its way back onto Milky Way's disk.

"The Smith Cloud is certainly one of the best examples that shows that recycled gas is an important mechanism in the evolution of galaxies," said Lehner.

The findings of this study were published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

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