The Magellanic Stream’s Structure and Mass Are Finally Explained: What Should You Know


A massive, high-velocity stream of gas is wrapped most of the way around our galaxy at approximately 200,000 light-years. Scientists know its origins, more or less. It’s been somehow linked with the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, some dwarf galaxies that orbit and will eventually be eaten by the Milky Way. Such a thing is dubbed the Magellanic Stream. 

Even if the Magellanic Stream matches up chemically with the Magellanic Clouds, its mass has troubled scientists’ work for too long. But things are about to change. A team of astronomers might have some answers. Here is what you need to know.

The Magellanic Stream Under Investigation

Recently, a team of astronomers came out with a new solution that is perfect at explaining the Magellanic Stream’s mass. According to their discovery, the gas doesn’t come from within the Magellanic Clouds. It’s actually pulled out from their galactic haloes. 

The chaotic swing of the Milky Way and the Magellanic Clouds is intriguing. The two satellite galaxies orbit each other, and then together orbit the bigger Milky Way. Such a complex synergy is distorting all three galaxies, and the Milky Way is believed to be interrupting the Magellanic Clouds. 

The team was led by Scott Lucchini, an astronomer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. They realized the simulations of the Magellanic Clouds being pulled into orbit around the Milky Way. And they concluded that the halo of warm gas around the Magellanic Cloud, known as Magellanic Corona, would have tragically altered the way the Magellanic Stream evolved. 

Research’s Findings and Other Significant Details

According to the team’s simulations, the formation included a two-stage process. The first one happened long before the Milky Way dragged the Magellanic Clouds, still orbiting each other. The Large Magellanic Cloud took a lot of material from the Small Magellanic Cloud, losing a significant amount of gas.

The process lasted for approximately 5.7 billion years, resulting in a halo of almost 3 billion solar masses of gas that wrapped the two galaxies as the Milky Way pulled them. 

At that point, the gravitational pulls paved the path for the Magellanic Stream, with the halo offering some 10 to 20 % of its final mass. 

As for the second stage, after the Milky Way’s orbit took the two galaxies, interactions with our galaxy’s gravity and galactic halo dragged almost a fifth of the Magellanic Corona’s mass out produce the rest of the stream.

According to the team’s simulations, the two-stage process of events reproduces the Magellanic Stream’s mass and structure. It also includes the stream’s branch, dubbed the Leading Arm, that orbits ahead of the two dwarf galaxies. 


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