In the far future, a giant cloud of hydrogen will collide with our Milky Way galaxy and help create thousands of new stars.
Jay Lockman: I think that one of the most interesting and important features of this cloud is that we’re seeing today a remnant of the formation of the Milky Way.
That’s Jay Lockman at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in West Virginia. He said our Milky Way galaxy was probably formed by the merger of enormous clouds of gas like the one tracked for the first time ever by his team. Astronomers call this cloud in space Smith’s Cloud for its discoverer. Smith’s Cloud measures 11,000 light-years long and 2,500 light-years wide. Lockman predicts it will strike the Perseus spiral arm of our galaxy in about 20 million years.
Jay Lockman: It’s bringing a lot of fresh gas right into star-forming regions of the Milky Way. It’s coming in very fast, supersonically. And so that gas is going to shock the local gas. And in these shocks, you may be able to build up densities enough to make a whole cluster of new stars.
And as to what that might look like to anyone who happens to be near the collision, 40,000 light years from Earth…
Jay Lockman: So people who were living in the area, where there are habitable planets they would probably see the event as a series of shocks in interstellar gas and then subsequently a lot of new, big stars forming. It would really light up the sky in an interesting way.
Our thanks to:
National Radio Astronomy Observatory
Greenbank, West Virginia
Ohio State University
In his years with EarthSky, Jorge Salazar conducted thousands of in-depth interviews with scientists. He knows a lot about as diverse as nanotechnology, ecosystem-based management, climate change, global health, international environmental treaties, astrophysics and cosmology, and environmental security. Jorge currently works as a Technical Writer/Editor for the Texas Advanced Computing Center, which designs and deploys powerful advanced computing technologies and innovative software solutions for scientific researchers.