Not too far away, there's a giant gas cloud drifting towards the Milky Way galaxy. Known as the Smith Cloud and made up mostly of hydrogen, it should merge with our home system in about 30 million years. On this week's podcast, I spoke with Jay Lockman, the lead scientist at the NRAO's Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia who told me about this mysterious object.
|A false-color image of the Smith Cloud, showing it's comet-like appearance.|
As big as a small galaxy, scientists think that when the Smith Cloud merges with the Milky Way, it will trigger a whole new era of star formation in our own galaxy. A collision with a massive gas cloud might seem ominous, but astronomers say not to worry. Collisions like this probably have already happened even closer to us that where the Smith Cloud is going to hit, and planet Earth is still going strong.
|The Smith Cloud on a collision course with the Milky Way galaxy.|
|This as yet unpublished image from the Green Bank Telescope shows how it sees the cloud's|
radio emissions in hydrogen's 21 cm emission band.
Image: Jay Lockman