Home Universe Smith Cloud Zooming Towards Earth At 700K Miles An Hour

Smith Cloud Zooming Towards Earth At 700K Miles An Hour

by Sankalan Baidya
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The comet-shaped Smith Cloud detected back in 1960’s is returning home with its trajectory being fixed on Earth! Pacing through space at a speed of 700,000 miles every hour, the massive gas cloud – invisible to bare eyes – is bringing some interesting events with it. But the question is, ‘Do we earthlings need to worry and evacuate our home orb?” The answer to this question is NO! Possibly the human race will become extinct by the time it reaches our blue planet.

What is Smith Cloud?

We apologize for making you worried without properly introducing Smith Cloud. It is the name of a massive hydrogen gas cloud that was detected by Gail Smith – a doctoral student of astronomy back in the 1960s. He picked up the radio waves that were emitted by the cloud. Ever since then, the cloud has been named after its discoverer as an honor.

Smith Cloud is not the only gas cloud that is headed towards Milky Way or Earth. There are hundreds of such clouds but since astronomers of Hubble Space Telescope are very much aware of the exact trajectory of the cloud, it is special.

Where is the Smith Cloud Coming From?

Smith Cloud is not a freak gas cloud from outer space. Hubble Space Telescope astronomers say that some 70 million years ago, the cloud was a part of our Milky Way galaxy. For some odd reason, it was thrown out of its home but now it is homeward bound and that too at a massive speed.

According to Andrew Fox, team leader at Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Smith Cloud is a screaming example that shows our Milky Way galaxy is very active and bubbling and at times, gas clouds can be thrown out from one end. It is only a matter of time, says Fox, that those gas clouds will return home from the other end.

smith cloud trajectory in past, present and future

Smith Cloud Trajectory In Past, Present and Future.

What Will Happen When Smith Cloud Gets Back Home?

It may sound alarming to many people that an enormous cloud of the shape of a comet is heading straight towards earth. However, this gas cloud which has a length of 11,000 light years and a width of 2,500 light years, is not going to enter our Solar System in next 30 million years. Most possibly, human race will be extinct long before that. So, we don’t really need to worry and set ourselves in motion for a full-scale evacuation of planet Earth.

Experts who studied the cloud using Hubble’s Cosmic Origins Spectrograph determined the amount of light that gets filtered through the cloud and found that this comet-shaped cloud is sulfur rich. Sulfur density of the cloud matches the sulfur density found in a region in outer disk of our Milky Way. That region is 40,000 light years away from the center of our galaxy and from our Solar System and Sun, it is about 15,000 light years away. The amount of sulfur in the gas cloud turned out to be half the amount of sulfur we have in our Sun. Now that is possible only if the gas cloud is not primordial and had been a part of the Milky Way in past only to become an offshoot and lurk in the rural boundaries of our galaxy.

Scientists say that when the Smith Cloud eventually enters back into Solar System, a phase will come where large number of stars will be formed. Scientists estimate as many as 2 million sun-like stars to be formed because of this homecoming. What really will happen is that this super fast gas cloud will enter the Milky Way and will collide head-on with the gas that is already present in our galaxy. This collision will lead to a massive shock wave and will lead to compression of Smith Cloud. If the compression manages to make the cloud dense enough, thousands and millions of stars will be formed – all at once.

Sources: 1, 2

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