Windy Galaxy

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Windy Galaxy

A companion galaxy to the Milky Way is windy. It’s blowing enough hot gas in our direction to make 85 million stars as massive as the Sun. No one knows just what will happen to the gas. But some of it could fall into the Milky Way, where it really could form new stars.

The LMC — the Large Magellanic Cloud — is about 160,000 light-years away. It’s the biggest galaxy that orbits the Milky Way — about one percent of the Milky Way’s mass. It’s home to giant clouds of gas and dust that are spawning new stars. That includes one of the most massive of all stellar nurseries.

Some of the LMC’s stars are big and heavy. They live short but spectacular lives, then blast themselves to bits as supernovas. That sends their outer layers of gas racing into space at high speeds. The gas rams into nearby clouds, pushing some of their material as well.

And that’s what’s driving the winds. Astronomers have measured the winds on the side of the LMC that faces our way. They’ve found top speeds of about 360,000 miles per hour. Some of the gas may be flowing into a long ribbon of gas, dust, and stars that connects the LMC and the Milky Way. That could fuel the birth of more stars. And more of the gas could wind up in the Milky Way itself — adding to our home galaxy’s already impressive population of stars.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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