Image credit: B. Fugate (FASORtronics) / ESO.
The Milky Way blazes above the European Southern Observatory (ESO) facilities at Mount Paranal in northern Chile’s Atacama Desert. Paranal hosts the world’s most advanced ground-based astronomical observatory, the Very Large Telescope (VLT), and is home to two new telescopes for large imaging surveys currently under construction, the VLT Survey Telescope (VST) and the Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA). Both are expected to “take up duty” in the 2009-2010 timeframe. This photograph shows an edge-on view of the Milky Way’s glowing plane slicing across the night sky, laced by bands of dust and dark gas. Taken with a digital camera using a three-minute exposure, the photograph also reveals a bit of action on the ground. To the left, a vehicle with its parking lights on stops lets out a passenger. Though bathed by the light of the Milky Way, the high-altitude desert remains quite dark. To illuminate the rightward path to the underground entrance ramp of the ‘Residencia’, where staff and visitors stay, the passenger takes along a small flashlight, seen as a squiggly bright line. In the lower right, the glass dome on the Residencia’s roof reflects the starry sky overhead. One of our Milky Way’s galactic satellites, the Large Magellanic Cloud, is seen hanging above the Residencia in the lower right corner of the image.
“Think about it this way – a boomerang goes out and comes back to you if you throw it. If you throw it out at the universe, it will come back down to you on Earth.” -J. B. Smoove
Give a planet a kick, and it goes into a more distant orbit around our star. Give it a hard enough kick, and it will reach escape velocity, leaving our Solar System forever. But if you gave it an almost hard enough kick, it would travel extremely far from the Sun, but it would eventually boomerang back towards the inner Solar System, with potentially disastrous, disruptive consequences. This applies to any system (not just the Solar System), including our own galaxy.
Image credit: B. Saxton and F. Lockman (NRAO/AUI/NSF), and A. Mellinger; Illustration Credit: NASA, ESA, and Z. Levay (STScI).
In the Milky Way’s outskirts, there are high-velocity gas clouds, including one — the Smith Cloud — that’s moving towards us at a breakneck pace. Thanks to data from the Hubble Space Telescope, Andrew Fox and his team have just uncovered that this cloud came from our Milky Way, was almost ejected into intergalactic space, but is now on its way back, where in 30 million years it will collide with our galactic disk. The 11,000 light year-long cloud is expected to produce over 2 million new stars when it does.
Illustration Credit: NASA, ESA, and A. Feild (STScI); science by A. Fox (STScI), ESA and NASA.
Go read the whole story over at Forbes!