Milky Way encounter with the Great Magellanic Cloud yields violent effects

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A new study by scientists at the University of Edinburgh has revealed that the Great Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a dwarf galaxy orbiting our galaxy, is pulling, twisting and deforming the Milky Way’s disc in an unobtrusive way due to the gravitational pull of the halo of dark matter that surrounds it.

Scientists believe that the LMC crossed the boundaries of the Milky Way 700 million years ago, a recent past in cosmological terms. Due to the great presence of dark matter – particles present around the galaxy with great gravitational effects on the movement of stars and gases – in it, the Milky Way has undergone intense effects that can still be observed. Today, the LMC is considered a satellite galaxy in the Milky Way, and can be observed in the sky in the southern hemisphere as a cloud of low brightness.

The Great Magellanic Cloud (Image: Reproduction / Zdeněk Bardon / ESO)

The presence of dark matter is nothing new. Previous studies have already shown that this galaxy, like the Milky Way, is surrounded by a halo of dark matter. Thus, scientists at the University of Edinburgh used a sophisticated statistical model that calculates the speed of the most distant stars in our galaxy, and discovered the effects of CML on the movement of the Milky Way: the CML dark matter halo is pulling and twisting the disk. Milky Way at a speed of 32 km / s or 115,200 km / h towards the constellation Pegasus.

They were surprised to discover that the Milky Way was not moving towards the current location of the LMC as thought, but towards a point already passed in its trajectory. For the team, this is because the LMC, powered by its massive gravitational pull, is separating from the Milky Way at a speed of 370 km / s, or 1.3 million kilometers per hour; so, it’s like the Milky Way is trying to hit a target that moves very quickly, but is not aiming well.

This discovery should help scientists to develop new modeling techniques that capture the interplanetary dynamics that occur between the two galaxies: “the discovery definitely breaks the ‘spell’ that our galaxy is in some kind of state of equilibrium”, says Jorge Peñarrubia , one of the study’s authors. In the next few steps, astronomers plan to discover the direction in which the LMC came in the Milky Way and the exact moment when it happened. This information will reveal the quantity and distribution of dark matter in the Milky Way and the LMC in unprecedented detail. “Our findings require a new generation of Milky Way models to describe the evolution of our galaxy,” explains Michael Petersen, lead author.

The article with the results of the study was published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

Fonte: University of Edinburgh

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