Astronomers discover 2.6 million light-year bridge between galaxies

BY Justin Scuiletti  August 7, 2014 at 6:53 PM EST
A 2.6 million lightyear bridge of hydrogen gas -- the largest known -- stretches from a large galaxy located at the bottom left to the galaxy at the top. Image by Rhys Taylor/Arecibo Galaxy Environment Survey/The Sloan Digital Sky Survey Collaboration

A 2.6 million lightyear bridge of hydrogen gas — the largest known — stretches from a large galaxy located at the bottom left to the galaxy at the top. Image by Rhys Taylor/Arecibo Galaxy Environment Survey/The Sloan Digital Sky Survey Collaboration

A team of astronomers and students have discovered a stream of hydrogen gas in space that is the largest known to date — and dwarfs our own galaxy in comparison.

The find of atomic hydrogen gas stretches 2.6 million light-years, acting as a bridge between two galaxies located 500 million light-years from Earth. The length is not the only impressive stat, however: the stream itself encompasses more gas than the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies combined.

“This was totally unexpected,” Dr. Rhys Taylor, lead author of the paper, said in a statement. “We frequently see gas streams in galaxy clusters, where there are lots of galaxies close together, but to find something this long and not in a cluster is unprecedented.”

The team is still uncertain what could’ve caused such a massive bridge to form, but plan to simulate theories using computer simulations.