The Magellanic Stream is five times closer than we thought and will merge with the Milky Way

The Magellanic Stream will merge with the Milky Way, causing new stars to form in our galaxy.

In addition to the Milky Way, the clearest nights in the southern hemisphere are starred by two galaxies that are part of the Local Group: it is the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, a pair of satellite galaxies located at an average distance of 200,000 and 163,000 light years from our planet, respectively.

The billion-year gravitational interaction between the Magellanic Clouds and the Milky Way forms a huge gas arc flowing through the night sky, known as magallanes stream. And although due to its wavelength it is invisible to the human eye, ultraviolet and X-ray images show the current extending to almost half of the Milky Way.

Although the first observations of the Magellanic current occurred in the 1970s, its origin and future are still unknown to astronomy. Nevertheless, a new model developed by astronomers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Institute of Space Telescope Sciences recreated the birth of the two Magellanic galaxies 3.5 billion years ago and provided unpublished information about the enigmatic current:

The Milky Way and the Large Magellanic Cloud from Wilsons Promontory National Park, Australia. Photo: Getty Images

Based on the data obtained from the latest observations of the Magellan current (and the result of a study carried out in 2020, which considers that the current is enveloped by a gas corona), the team concluded that it is five times closer to the Milky Way than previously believed, about 65,000 light years from our planet.

The new calculation also reveals the probability that the stream has only one fifth of the mass previously calculated and therefore does not cover a third of the Milky Way that was believed in previous observations.

The study published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters confirmed previous observations that both galaxies orbit themselves; However, the new model determined that they do so in the opposite direction which was believed until now.

Despite the distance that separates our galaxy from the stream, 50 million years from now, the gas arc will begin to merge with the Milky Way, causing the formation of new stars in our cosmic neighborhood.

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