Giant gas finger poking Milky Way discovered

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Washington, Feb 5 (UNI) Astronomers have found a giant finger of hydrogen gas poking through our Milky Way Galaxy from outside, which looks like a fork piercing a fried egg.

The gas finger, called HVC306-2+230, is running into the starry disk of our Galaxy about 70 thousand light-years away from us, the Science Daily reported.

''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.

The location of the intrusion may give a crucial clue to the fate of the nearby little galaxies , the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds. The two Clouds are irregular dwarf galaxies, which are members of our local group of galaxies.

Until last year, astronomers generally thought that the Magellanic Clouds had orbited our Galaxy many times, and were doomed to be ripped apart and swallowed by their gravitational overlord.

But then new Hubble Space Telescope measurements showed the Clouds were moving much faster than previously thought. In turn, this implied that the Clouds are paying our Galaxy a one-time visit rather than being its long-term companions.

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.

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.'' UNI XC ARB RAI1356

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