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Hubble Space Telescope Finds Source of Magellanic Stream
08/08/2013
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Hubble Space Telescope Finds Source of Magellanic Stream
http://www.nasa.gov/content/hubble-spac ... ic-stream/
08/07/2013 08:00 PM EDT

Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have solved a 40-year mystery
on the origin of the Magellanic Stream, a long ribbon of gas stretching nearly
halfway around our Milky Way galaxy.

The Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, two dwarf galaxies orbiting the Milky Way,
are at the head of the gaseous stream. Since the stream's discovery by radio telescopes
in the early 1970s, astronomers have wondered whether the gas comes from one or
both of the satellite galaxies.

New Hubble observations reveal most of the gas was stripped from the Small
Magellanic Cloud about 2 billion years ago, and a second region of the stream
originated more recently from the Large Magellanic Cloud.

A team of astronomers, led by Andrew J. Fox of the Space Telescope Science
Institute in Baltimore, Md., determined the source of the gas filament by using
Hubble's Cosmic Origins Spectrograph to measure the amount of heavy elements,
such as oxygen and sulfur, at six locations along the Magellanic Stream. They
observed faraway quasars, the brilliant cores of active galaxies, that emit light
that passes through the stream. They detected the heavy elements from the
way the elements absorb ultraviolet light.

Fox's team found a low amount of oxygen and sulfur along most
of the stream, matching the levels in the Small Magellanic Cloud about 2 billion
years ago, when the gaseous ribbon is thought to have formed. In a surprising
twist, the team discovered a much higher level of sulfur in a region of
the stream that is closer to the Magellanic Clouds. Image Credit: NASA

Image Credit: NASA

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