Like a bullet wrapped in a full metal jacket, a high-velocity hydrogen cloud hurtling toward the Milky Way appears to be encased in a shell of dark matter, according to a new analysis of data from the National Science Foundation’s Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT). Astronomers believe that without this protective shell, the high-velocity cloud (HVC) known as the Smith Cloud would have disintegrated long ago when it first collided with the disk of our Galaxy.
If confirmed by further observations, a halo of dark matter could mean that the Smith Cloud is actually a failed dwarf galaxy, an object that has all the right stuff to form a true galaxy, just not enough to produce stars.
“The Smith Cloud is really one of a kind. It’s fast, quite extensive, and close enough to study in detail,” said Matthew Nichols with the Sauverny Observatory in Switzerland and principal author on a paper accepted for publication in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. “It’s also a bit of a mystery; an object like this simply shouldn’t survive a trip through the Milky Way, but all the evidence points to the fact that it did.”
Previous studies of the Smith Cloud revealed that it first passed through our Galaxy many millions of years ago. By reexamining and carefully modeling the cloud, astronomers now believe that the Smith Cloud contains and is actually wrapped in a substantial “halo” of dark matter—the gravitationally significant yet invisible stuff that makes up roughly 80 percent of all the matter in the Universe. Via physorg