Hubble Sees Monstrous Cloud Boomerang Back to our Galaxy
Hubble Space Telescope astronomers are finding that the old adage “what goes up must come down” even applies to an immense cloud of hydrogen gas outside our Milky Way galaxy.
The invisible cloud is plummeting toward our galaxy at nearly 700,000 miles per hour.
Though hundreds of enormous, high-velocity gas clouds whiz around the outskirts of our galaxy, this so-called “Smith Cloud” is unique because its trajectory is well known. New Hubble observations suggest it was launched from the outer regions of the galactic disk, around 70 million years ago. The cloud was discovered in the early 1960s by doctoral astronomy student Gail Smith, who detected the radio waves emitted by its hydrogen.
This composite image shows the size and location of the Smith Cloud on the sky. The cloud appears in false-color, radio wavelengths as observed by the Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia. The visible-light image of the background star field shows the cloud’s location in the direction of the constellation Aquila.
Credits: Saxton/Lockman/NRAO/AUI/NSF/Mellinger #nasagoddard #space #hubble