Hubble solves the 40-year-old mystery of the Magellanic Stream
2013-08-12 0:00

By Katie Collins | Ars Technica

The origins of a mysterious ribbon of gas that stretches nearly halfway around the Milky Way has been discovered by astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope.

Ever since its discovery 40 years ago, astronomers have wondered where the Magellanic Stream originated. And now they have their answer. The stream was, for the most part, stripped from the Small Magellanic Cloud around two billion years ago.

The Small Magellanic Cloud is one of the dwarf galaxies that orbit our own. Computer models had predicted that the stream had been torn entirely from the smaller cloud, which is why astronomers were surprised to discover that a small part of the Magellanic Stream was also torn more recently from the larger of the Magellanic Clouds.

The sources were finally determined by using Hubbleís Cosmic Origins Spectrograph and the European Southern Observatoryís Very Large Telescope. Along most of the stream, the team found low abundances of oxygen and sulphur that correlated with levels found in the Small Magellanic Cloud two billion years ago. The composition of an inner region of the stream, however, was found to be full of heavy elements that made it more consistent with the Large Magellanic Cloud.


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