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And you thought you had gas…

Tracing_the_origin_of_the_Magellanic_StreamYou’ve probably had it happen. You’re standing close to someone when you suddenly find yourself almost encircled by a ribbon of gas.

Imagine first noticing the ribbon almost 50 years ago with no sign of it letting up.

Now, imagine this on a galactic scale.

Naturally, you wouldn’t be able to smell it in space, but you’d be able to detect it through other means, like a telescope.

Well, this has happened.

Back in 1965, a stream of gas was observed in the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, a couple of the Milky Way’s satellite galaxies. However, at the time, nobody was sure where it was coming from, unlike the situation mentioned above. Especially if you’re in an elevator.

Called the Magellanic Stream, it’s been discovered to be composed mostly of oxygen and sulfur along most of its length, with a larger amount of sulfur in the area close to the Magellanic Clouds themselves, now known to be the source of the ribbon.

In fact, spectroscopy has shown that the stream’s composition closely resembles that of the Large Magellanic Cloud, leading to the belief that the gas was somehow ejected from the small galaxy.

So why is this getting so much attention?

It’s huge. This particular stream is about 600,000 light-years long, starting at the Magellanic Clouds, but stretching almost haflway around the Milky Way – not through it, around it!

Just don’t light a match.

Dream.

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