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article imageGiant Hydrogen Gas Cloud on Collision Course with Milky Way

By Chris V. Thangham     Jan 13, 2008 in Environment
Astronomers report a giant mass of hydrogen gas is heading toward the Milky Way galaxy and will collide with it in 40 million years. The clouds are moving at 250 kilometers per second and will likely form new stars in the galaxy.
There are many clouds of hydrogen gas that surround the Milky Way, but scientists were unable to detect them until recently after the radio telescopes were discovered. Those devices have now produced some preliminary information but still not accurate enough to calculate the hydrogen clouds’ distance, mass and or direction of motion.
But with the help of 100-meter Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in Green Bank, West Virginia, they are able to calculate the data much better. One of these observations found this giant hydrogen cloud moving toward the Milky Way at 250 Kilometers per second. Researchers say it could possibly collide in 40 million years.
As Sciencenow reports:"The first to be spotlighted in extreme detail is Smith's Cloud, named after Dutch astronomy student Gail Smith, who discovered it in 1963. Curious about the cloud's elongated shape, a team of astronomers led by Felix "Jay" Lockman of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Charlottesville, Virginia, took tens of thousands of radio brightness measurements."Researchers found this giant cloud is only 8,000 light years away from the Milky Way’s central plane and it has developed its unique shape as a result of tidal effects in the Milky Way.
In the picture below, you can see where the cloud will collide with our solar system. Even though the collision appears near to us, it's actually quite far according to the team member Robert Benjamin of the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater. The Earth’s residents will be able to see the collision and how the cloud’s gas condenses into tens of thousands of stars that will explode as supernovas.
Smith’s Cloud on a collision course with Milky Way galaxy.
W. Butler Burton, a retired radio astronomer and expert on these fast-moving hydrogen clouds, said these new observation are really helpful to solve the riddle about the origins of these clouds."We never knew whether the clouds were blown out of the Milky Way, only to fall back at a later stage, or whether they are pristine intergalactic clouds falling in for the first time."But based on the observations, Burton said it looks like they are pristine clouds falling into the galaxy for the first time. The clouds only have hydrogen and helium and no other elements that belong to Milky Way. This collision will likely form the final stages of the formation process of our galaxy according to Burton.
However, there is also another giant object heading towards Milky Way, the Andromeda Galaxy. And our sun will reportedly die after several billion years, so should mankind get a head start and try to find another planet or solar system in which to live. Will our race survive that long?
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