The Hubble Telescope Just Solved the Mystery of the Greatest Galactic Game of Tug of War in the History of the Milky Way

Friday, 23 March 2018 - 11:06AM
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Friday, 23 March 2018 - 11:06AM
The Hubble Telescope Just Solved the Mystery of the Greatest Galactic Game of Tug of War in the History of the Milky Way
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Image credit: YouTube
After much speculation and theorizing, astronomers may have finally solved what could well be literally the biggest mystery in the galaxy.

Or, to be a little more accurate, the biggest mystery that's slightly outside the galaxy.

There are a lot of weird things in orbit around the Milky Way. Two such space oddities are a pair of cosmic clouds which spin constantly around each other, while trapped in a deadly tug of war that's leaving discarded gas strewn all around the galaxy's outer orbit.

When viewed from high powered telescopes, it's easy to see both clouds, named the Large Magellanic Cloud and the Small Magellanic Cloud, as well as the large trail of gas and debris that they're leaving in their wake, which is mixed up into what is known as the Leading Arm, a huge swathe of gas and debris that's being pulled inwards towards the Milky Way.

As these two large gravitational bodies pull at each other, outer debris is being loosened and scattered across the galaxy, in a similar process to the gravitational scattering that sends rogue moons and planets soaring away from their homes.




For years, scientists have speculated about the Leading Arm, and wondered: If these two clouds are locked in an endless gravitational tug of war, which one is winning? Will the Small Magellanic Cloud eventually fade away to nothingness or be absorbed by the Large Magellanic Cloud, or does the greater size and mass of the bigger of these two bodies make it unstable and prone to shedding extra matter.

Now, researchers from the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, have been able to answer this question, by viewing the clouds through an ultraviolet filter on the Hubble space telescope.

According to lead scientist Andrew Fox:

Opening quote
"There's been a question: Did the gas come from the Large Magellanic Cloud or the Small Magellanic Cloud? At first glance, it looks like it tracks back to the Large Magellanic Cloud. But we've approached that question differently, by asking: What is the Leading Arm made of? Does it have the composition of the Large Magellanic Cloud or the composition of the Small Magellanic Cloud?"
Closing quote


Apparently, by looking at these two bodies to determine the movement of gas within their structures, it's been possible to determine that traces of the Small Magellanic Cloud can be found within the Leading Arm, mixed up with a bunch of different types of gas from across the rest of the Milky Way's orbital space.

It turns out that might makes right, even on the cosmic scale—the Small Magellanic Cloud is slowly being torn apart as its larger cousin exerts a tremendous gravitational pull on everything in its immediate vicinity.

Anyone who's ever got rope burn while trying to beat an older sibling in a tug of war can probably relate.
But we've approached that question differently, by asking: What is the Leading Arm made of? Does it have the composition of the Large Magellanic Cloud or the composition of the Small Magellanic Cloud?

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2018-03-hubble-cosmic-whodunit-interstellar-forensics.html#jCp

There's been a question: Did the gas come from the Large Magellanic Cloud or the Small Magellanic Cloud? At first glance, it looks like it tracks back to the Large Magellanic Cloud

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2018-03-hubble-cosmic-whodunit-interstellar-forensics.html#jCp
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