What a violent universe we live in!
It turns out that the invisible rogue black holes swirling around our very own galaxy, the Milky Way, and eating everything in their path are not the only villains in the universe. What I wrote last Thursday, Jan. 10, turned out to be just the 10-seconder teaser of an epic horror documentary on the universe.
Expounding more on the latest astronomical findings, Vanderbilt University astronomer Kelly Holley-Bockelmann said scientists have discovered an approaching gas cloud with a mass 1 million times that of the sun – and it’s heading right to our Milky Way galaxy at hyper-speed – 150 miles per second!
When the humongous gas cloud hits our galaxy, expect the Fireworks of all fireworks. It will “really light up the neighborhood,” says astronomer Jay Lockman at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in West Virginia. The collision will cause the formation of news stars, he adds.
But, hey, don’t lock yourself in the closet just yet! The galactic danger is still 47 quadrillion miles away. Moreover, the gas cloud will hit a part of the Milky Way far from Earth and the biggest collision will be 40 million years in the future. In short, it’s too far to affect even the grandchild of the grandchild of the grandchild of the grandchild of your own grandchild!
The giant cloud has been known for more than 40 years, but only now have scientists realized how fast it’s moving. So fast, Lockman said, that “we can see it sort of plowing up a wave of galactic material in front of it.”
During their annual meeting this week, US astronomers also revealed other forms of cosmic brutalities.
They unveiled a giant map of mysterious dark matter in a supercluster of clashing galaxies. The gravitational force between the clashing galaxies can cause “slow strangulation,” in which crucial gas is gradually removed from the victim galaxy.
Then there’s the process the astronomers called as “stripping” which is a more violent process. Here the larger galaxy rips gas from the smaller one.
Another phenomenon is called “harassment,” which is a quick fly-by encounter, said astronomer Meghan Gray of the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom.
Aside from the thugs and villains roaming around the universe – the macroscopic equivalent of the terrorists plaguing our world – the astronomers also revealed other eye-popping discoveries:
• Photos of “blue blobs” that astronomers figure are orphaned baby stars. They’re called orphans because they were “born in the middle of nowhere” instead of within gas clouds, said Catholic University of America astronomer Duilia F. de Mello.
• A strange quadruplet of four hugging stars, which may eventually help astronomers understand better how stars form.
• A young star surrounded by dust, that may eventually become a planet. It’s nicknamed “the moth,” because the interaction of star and dust are shaped like one.
• A spiral galaxy with two pairs of arms spinning in opposite directions, like a double pinwheel. It defies what astronomers believe should happen. It is akin to one of those spinning-armed flamingo lawn ornaments, said astronomer Gene Byrd of the University of Alabama.
• The equivalent of post-menopausal stars giving unlikely birth to new planets. Most planets form soon after a sun, but astronomers found two older stars, one at least 400 million years old, with new planets.
“Intellectually and spiritually, it’s awe-inspiring,” said J. Craig Wheeler, president of the astronomy association. “It’s a great universe.”
As astronomers continue to unravel more and more of the mysteries of the Universe, I feel luckier every day that I spend life on Earth, regardless of the many challenges and conflicts and difficulties all around me. And we should all be. We’re alive to marvel at the spectacle of the Universe, while others who aren’t with us anymore cannot do so.
If only for this fact, we should all strive harder to keep ourselves healthy, so that we may witness more of the wonders of the universe in our lifetime.
(Photo caption: Hubble Space Telescope image of colliding galaxies in the constellation of Canis Major.)