The Local Fluff

LocalFluffThe stars are not alone in space. About 10 percent of visible matter in our galaxy is gas called the interstellar medium (ISM). The solar system moves through the Local Cloud at a speed of 80,000 km/h, creating an interstellar wind of particles. Some travel toward Earth providing information about our neighborhood. The ISM is not uniform. It’s patchy and can be difficult to detect because it is so tenuous and emits so little light. It’s mostly hydrogen gas which absorbs some very specific colors that can be detected in the light of the nearest stars.

Here is working map of the local ISM within 20 light-years based on ongoing observations and recent particle detections from the Earth-orbiting Interstellar Boundary Explorer satellite (IBEX). The Sun is moving through a Local Interstellar Cloud as this cloud flows outwards from the Scorpius-Centaurus Association star forming region. The Solar System may move out of the Local Cloud (aka the Local Fluff) in roughly 10,000 years.

Image Credit: NASA

UPDATE—Count Zero sent me this animated GIF that shows the Solar System “in flight.”solar_system_motion