The movement of the Earth and solar system through the Milky Way creates an apparent wind that doesn’t have much of an effect on our planet.
Scientists had thought the wind’s direction would remain pretty much constant for millions of years given the vast distances of interstellar space.
But turbulence within the cloud, which is about 30 light-years across, appears to have shifted the wind’s direction by 6 degrees in only 40 years.
It’s either that, or the solar system is only about 1,000 years from punching out of the cloud, according to an international team of NASA researchers.
“Think of looking at clouds in the sky — if you are in that cloud, there's not much change,” astrophysicist Eberhard Moebius of the University of New Hampshire in Durham told New Scientist.
"But when you look at the boundary of the cloud, driven around by the wind, you can see fine structures where it's getting fuzzy and pulled around. We think that this might be related to these kinds of turbulent structures (causing the wind shift),” Moebius added.
The findings are helping scientists map our Earth’s location within the Milky Way galaxy and are increasing the understanding of humankind’s place in the cosmos.
Graphic: P.C. Frisch - University of New Hampshire