05:30 GMT +3 hours25 July 2016
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Smith Cloud

Monster Gas Cloud Careening Toward Earth With the Power of 2 Million Suns

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An invisible gas cloud of spectacular proportions, moving at some 700,000 mph, is believed to be heading for a collision with our galaxy, releasing enough energy to form over two million new stars.

​But nobody alive on Earth today should worry, as it is expected to occur some 30 million years in the future, according to research published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The cloud was discovered in 1963 by American astronomer Gail P. Smith, and later named after him. Since then, the “Smith Cloud” has been thoroughly examined by various astronomers using the Green Bank Observatory and the Hubble Telescope.

According to estimates, the cloud formed on the outskirts of the Milky Way during the period when dinosaurs walked the Earth, approximately 70 million years ago. The Smith Cloud trajectory has been poetically described by astronomers as: “what goes up must come down.” After forming, cosmologists note that the cloud was blown away from the Milky Way and then, reaching its farthest point, turned back.

“It’s [the path of the cloud] telling us that the Milky Way is a bubbling, very active place where gas can be thrown out of one part of the disk and then return back down into another,” Andrew Fox, of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, leader of the research team said, outlining that movement of gas reflects changes constantly occurring within our galaxy.

Using the Hubble Telescope, astronomers have distinguished chemical components of Smith Cloud, including a rich sulfur content, indicating that it was formed in the Milky Way.

Hubble Telescope characterizes Smith Cloud
Hubble Telescope characterizes Smith Cloud

According to astronomers, the gaseous region is approximately 11,000 light-years long and 2,500 light-years wide. If it was visible to the naked eye from Earth, it would span across the night sky at a distance equal to 30 times the diameter of the full moon.

Our Milky Way galaxy contains some 100 billion suns and, when the cloud hits it, there will be "a spectacular burst of star formation,” releasing an amount energy thought to be able to create up to two million new stars.

“Our galaxy is recycling its gas through clouds, the Smith Cloud being one example, and will form stars in different places than before,” Fox said.

Astronomers are still attempting to explain why the cloud moved away from our galaxy in the first place.

“There are theoretical calculations suggesting that a dark matter satellite could capture gas as is passes through the Milky Way disk and that may be the amazing circumstance we are witnessing,” Jay Lockman, an astronomer with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) said.

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Earth, cloud, Milky Way, collision, gas, space, Hubble Space Telescope, NASA, United States
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  • michaelin reply toMother Gorilla(Show commentHide comment)
    Mother Gorilla, we do have the finger of god - seriously, although some do refer to them as the pillars of creation
    www.nasa.gov/content/goddard/hubble-goes-high-definition-to-revisit-iconic-pillars-of-creation
  • michaelin reply toMother Gorilla(Show commentHide comment)
    Mother Gorilla, tricky one that. I say that because when I was more into photography, clouds were a fascination. It's amazing some of the shapes that one can detect and what you can make images of using various filters etc. You should take some time to view different images of the aurora borealis - some of the shapes and colours there are very suggestive! :)
    I wasn't aware that the aquarian age had returned - I thought that that was more spoken of in the '60's. I must look into that.
    Of course, now you've reminded me to get the scope out and be distracted from being here! :) Thanks! :)
  • Randall Lee Hilburn in reply tomichael(Show commentHide comment)
    michael, If one believes in cyclical time as I do. Then destruction and rebirth are the same point in time. We are now in the transitional period between the Ages Of Pisces and Aquarius where destruction and rebirth are occurring simultaneously. When this cloud does get here it will be the same thing happening on a much larger scale.
  • Mother Gorillain reply tomichael(Show commentHide comment)
    michael, let's say it began in 2012, as the text suggests,

    earthsky.org/human-world/when-will-the-age-of-aquarius-begin

    that creates the obligation to make our world more friendly now, doesn't it?
  • Mother Gorillain reply toRandall Lee Hilburn (Show commentHide comment)
    Randall Lee Hilburn, so we've got to be careful!
  • michaelin reply toMother Gorilla(Show commentHide comment)
    Mother Gorilla, I believe that we always have that obligation :) Otherwise life just becomes a struggle for survival and domination of others. I would look at Aquarius in a different manner, as I'll write to Bob; maybe the transition is not time focussed but within the human animal? Your comment to him then still applies. :)
  • michaelin reply toRandall Lee Hilburn (Show commentHide comment)
    Randall, (pm to be sent later!) if destruction and rebirth are occurring at the same point in time, that fits (I believe) within the context of the Taoistic writings. Time, I do have difficulty with; cyclical time (as I would see it)(and within the context of this conversation!) is another way of seeing the development of the individual and when you write of the ages then I would look at that as our perception altering. Sorry this is just the models I've been exposed to in psych.:) As for the cloud, the macrocosm reflecting our microcosm - or should that be the other way around? (I don't want to be too anthropocentric:) )
  • Randall Lee Hilburn in reply tomichael(Show commentHide comment)
    michael, The Multiverse (Which is how I refer to the totality of all existence.) consists of an infinity of cycles within cycles. So you have both micro cycles (Personal) and macro cycles (Cosmic). The Eastern cultures do have a much better understanding of these sorts of things than the Western ones do, who lost their understanding a very long time ago. The Native Americans called what we are talking about "The Great Mystery". Because it ends up going beyond the ability of mortals to understand. Go far enough within yourself and you become one with the Universe. Go far enough out into the Universe and you return to your inner core. Because the Universe is a circle and the infinitely large and the infinitely small are the same. I've seen this proven in scientific experiments while I was in college. But nobody claims to understand it so the whole subject tends to be not often discussed. "The Great Mystery", once again.
  • Randall Lee Hilburn in reply toMother Gorilla(Show commentHide comment)
    Mother Gorilla, The ages don't change instantly like throwing a light switch. Instead they transition one into the other. We are living in a Dark Age and 2012 was midnight is my belief.
    Yes indeed, we must be very careful. You cannot have rebirth unless you first have death. But there is also destruction that only leads to more destruction, and that isn't good. We have to learn to distinguish between the two.
  • Mother Gorillain reply toRandall Lee Hilburn (Show commentHide comment)
    Randall Lee Hilburn, this reminds me of the German philosopher Kant we studied when I was at school in France. He put it that way: "Two things continue to fill me with admiration: the starry sky above me and the moral law within me." He concluded that the moral law within us as well as the cosmic law command us not to harm each other or the universe.
    But oftentimes we or at least our corrupt leaders don't seem to get it.
  • Mother Gorillain reply toRandall Lee Hilburn (Show commentHide comment)
    Randall Lee Hilburn,
    hope we don't have to wait forever til dawn.
    "Destruction leading to more destruction."
    A friend who is a microbiologist tells me that when a cell is hurt, it can either kill itself, repair, or start to multiply in a vicious way, leading to cancer or diseases of the immune system. The latter seems to be what our political systems do as well, spawning war and moral degeneration regardless of what we humans need.
  • Randall Lee Hilburn in reply toMother Gorilla(Show commentHide comment)
    Mother Gorilla, What we do to others and the universe. we do to ourselves, for on a certain level we and the universe all are one. To many leaders are the denizens of the chaos which is their natural habitat; that is why they can never understand.
  • Randall Lee Hilburn in reply toMother Gorilla(Show commentHide comment)
    Mother Gorilla, They, the leaders, remind me of the Demons in the Indian epic the Ramayana. They have precisely the same mental makeup.
  • michaelin reply toRandall Lee Hilburn (Show commentHide comment)
    Randall, you remind me of sagan...we are made of star stuff. But I think that these days physicists, especially involved in the quantum world are attempting to address the mystery. There is some fascinating research and thinking going on there! :)
  • Randall Lee Hilburn in reply tomichael(Show commentHide comment)
    michael, Thanks for the compliment. We truly are star stuff in all of our facets.

    There was a book that came out in the US several years back by the title of "Blackfoot Physics". The Blackfoot were one of the Native American tribes. The individual who wrote it was both a full blooded member of the tribe and also an actual theoretical physicist with all of the appropriate academic credentials. He talks in the book about how the new discoveries in physics confirm and further develop the traditional spiritual beliefs of the tribe. In a manner of speaking, embarking on a journey to understand the Universe brings you back around to your roots and a deeper understanding of them.
  • Mother Gorillain reply toRandall Lee Hilburn (Show commentHide comment)
    Randall Lee Hilburn, you are right, they are all Ravanas, also in that they circumvent all the banes and restrictions placed on them.
  • Mother Gorillain reply toRandall Lee Hilburn (Show commentHide comment)
    Randall Lee Hilburn, thank you, I looked at "Blackfoot Physics", I especially like the ideas that you don't just accumulate knowledge, knowledge changes you and the one of immersion in a foreign culture. Very encouraging, it may mean that even bigots may learn if you go about it the right way...
  • michaelin reply toRandall Lee Hilburn (Show commentHide comment)
    Randall, in many ways I believe that physics and the other science (chemistry:) ), tend to discover that which was observed in nature before. Obviously not in all cases of course, but fundamentals. It is this which Zukav was talkiing about (Dancing Wu Li Masters) it is the model chosen, so I am glad to read of another text which integrates old models with contemporary understanding.:)
  • Blackiein reply toMother Gorilla(Show commentHide comment)
    Mother Gorilla,
    Hey dont upset the bigots on here!, or they will call you stupid!,
    Just because they have a spell check on their computer, they think they are clever! .
  • Baybarsin reply toMother Gorilla(Show commentHide comment)
    Mother Gorilla, I like that cell analogy to our current political situation. Thanks.
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