'Giant finger' from cosmic clouds pokes through our galaxy

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Washington, Feb 5 : Astronomers have found evidence of hydrogen gas that appears as if it is poking through our galaxy in a giant finger like shape from outside.

Discovered using CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organization) radio telescopes at Parkes and Narrabri in Australia, the 'giant finger' is actually gas streaming from the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds outside the Milky Way.

The gas finger, called HVC306-2+230, is running into the starry disk of our Galaxy about 70 thousand light-years (21kpc) away from us. On the sky, the point of contact is near the Southern Cross.

The finger is the pointy end of the so-called 'Leading Arm' of gas that streams ahead of the Magellanic Clouds towards the Milky Way.

"We're thrilled because we can determine exactly where this gas is ploughing into the Milky Way - it's usually extremely hard to get distances to such gas features," said the research team leader, Dr Naomi McClure-Griffiths of CSIRO's Australia Telescope National Facility.

According to the researchers, the location of the intrusion may give a crucial clue to the fate of the little galaxies the gas flows from, the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds.

Knowing where the 'Leading Arm' is crossing the galactic disk may help astronomers to predict where the clouds themselves will go in future.

"We think the Leading Arm is a tidal feature, gas pulled out of the Magellanic Clouds by the Milky Way's gravity," said Dr McClure-Griffiths. "Where this gas goes, we'd expect the Clouds to follow, at least approximately," he added.

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