back to article How's this for sci-fi: A cosmic river of 4,000 stars dazzles lifeforms as it flows through a galaxy. And that galaxy is the Milky Way

If you’re living in Earth's southern hemisphere, chances are you may be able to see some of the stars in a newly identified cosmic river that's flowed through the Milky Way for hundreds of millions of years. Astronomers say the freshly discovered gigantic cluster of stars is passing relatively close to our Solar System. The …

  1. redpawn Silver badge

    Continents and Stars

    All the important continents are in the northern hemisphere, so are the important stars. That's why compasses point north. Four thousand stars hiding in the southern sticks just haven't yet been assimilated by the northern stars. Bet my best load stone they wont stick together for another orbit of the galaxy core now that they have been discovered and found to be aberrant.

    1. Nick Kew Silver badge

      Re: Continents and Stars

      They must be turtle-fodder ...

      1. Scroticus Canis

        Re: turtle-fodder

        Nah, the other end. The turtle has come and gone already.

        1. Nick Kew Silver badge

          Re: turtle-fodder

          That's a slander! Why on Earthin Space would Great A'tuin home in on a dunghill?

    2. AndrueC Silver badge

      Re: Continents and Stars

      ..cry me a river (of stars).

    3. Muscleguy Silver badge

      Re: Continents and Stars

      Having grown up in New Zealand including Southern NZ with its easily accessible dark skies I am very familiar with how bright the Milky Way is across Southern skies. Moving first to London not being able to see stars was a huge disappointment.

      At university in Dunedin we would on occasion walk up the nearby big hill and lie there looking up with one of our number who was into astronomy who would point things out to us and pronounce 'satellite' not shooting star etc. So we tried to appreciate the spectacle on our upper neighbourhood.

      1. Jan 0

        Re: Continents and Stars

        >Moving first to London not being able to see stars was a huge disappointment.

        I doubt that anyone has had a good view of the Milky way, from London, for several hundred years.

        When I first went abroad, in the '60s, I was stunned by the brightness of the Milky Way and the number of meteorites that I could see while camping high in the Pyrenees.

        However, on the Norfolk coast and other darkish places in Britain, you can occasionally* get a good view of the Milky Way. I presume that NZ's small population doesn't generate a lot of smog or light pollution. (Does the smoke from SE Asian forest burning get to NZ skies?)

        *wind from the Arctic helps.

        1. David Pearce

          Re: Continents and Stars

          The centre of our galaxy is in Sagittarius, a little south of the celestial equator, so too close to the horizon from the UK to be well seen.

    4. james 68

      Re: Continents and Stars

      Your compass could just as easily be pointing South and your just looking at the wrong end.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Continents and Stars

      > "That's why compasses point north."

      Actually, they point south. You're holding it wrong. The "S" goes at the top.

      1. choleric

        Re: Continents and Stars

        > The "S" goes at the top.

        Wouldn't that be called north then? I gather that the south pole is in fact a north (magnetic) pole, so maybe this all works out ok in the end?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Continents and Stars

          Wait, what? You say the South Pole is actually a north magnetic pole? Um, how is that decided? In fact, how is it even detected? I was under the impression that opposite magnetic poles are opposite, but exactly equal in every other way. Therefore someone, sometime, must have arbitrarily declared one magnetic pole to be "North."

          Hmmm, since the Earth is the Big Magnet, one would suppose that such a major example would set the standard, but you imply some scientist just picked a direction long ago, and got it wrong!?

          Wait a minute... The only reason for saying the North Pole is a south magnetic pole would have to be that in a compass, the south end of the magnet points to the north magnetic pole. And the coloured end of the magnet is officially "north." So that means the North Pole is a south pole ONLY because the coloured end of the compass magnet is called the "north end?"

          Sure wish the planet would hurry up with that magnetic reversal...

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Continents and Stars

            I just realized something. When that magnetic reversal finally does happen, all the compasses in the world will HAVE to be held with the S at the top! Either that, or start calling the non-coloured compass point the "north" pointer.

            Or... we could swap the names of the actual planetary poles, but then the names would STILL be wrong! >:-(

        2. Keven E

          Re: Continents and Stars

          The use of the word "top" here is only because of a history of cartography. IIRC... even that guy Columbus thought that east was more "top" worthy, but ...

        3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Continents and Stars

          "I gather that the south pole is in fact a north (magnetic) pole,"

          That would imply that you'd need a different compass in each hemisphere and both kinds would be useless along the equator. Unless you are saying the north pole is in fact a south (magnetic) pole.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Continents and Stars

            The Earth is a single magnet. It has two poles that are manifestations of that magnet.A compass needle is also a single magnet with two poles. Compasses work by aligning themselves to the Earth's flux lines, which are more or less level except near the magnetic poles, where they are more vertical.

            In fact, there are vertical compasses made that detect the dip of the local flux lines, and regular compasses are commonly counter weighted so they stay flat despite the dip effect. Each region needs custom counter weighting to match the local dip, so a compass from a different latitude may not work well due to needle dragging.

  2. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    it is huge, and shockingly close to the Sun...

    Better take my hat off, then.

  3. Arctic fox


    The image (of a cosmic river) has a beauty that borders on the poetical.

    1. Spoonsinger

      Re: Fascinating!

      Bet it's full of ASDA shopping.trolleys.

      1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

        Re: Fascinating!

        ...but cosmic ASDA shopping trolleys, and soon to be upgraded to Asbury shopping trolleys.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Fascinating!

      I'm curious if it's actually visible as a linear feature on the disk of the galaxy, as viewed from well above the disk plain. Plenty of other star streams are visible in galaxies that have interesting pasts. Even our own galaxy is said to have swallowed quite a few dwarf galaxies in its eon, so it must be a little messy around the disk.

  4. W Donelson

    "And said lifeforms include us humans on Earth"

    but not for long. Hothouse Earth will wipe away civilisation, soon.

    1. Rol Silver badge

      What will the next dominant species do once the plastic mines and landfill sites have been fully worked?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Hothouse Earth will wipe away civilisation, soon.

      You could be right, but in geological terms you should be equally concerned about a new ice age. Not only are we in a cyclical inter-glacial period, but the rapid uptick in temperatures before a glacial period is repeatedly visible from the geological record through the Pleistocene.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        > "...the rapid uptick in temperatures before a glacial period..."

        But this time, it will be our fault. ;-/

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          I bet I would not have so many up votes here if they realized how sarcastic I was being.

  5. ThatOne Silver badge

    River of stars?

    Why not a "flock" while you're at it... Those star structures have a time-honored scientific name: "Clusters". What's wrong with scientific terms?

    It's already enough trouble reassuring the lactose-intolerant about the Milky Way.


      Re: River of stars?

      I think it is an ex-cluster. That is to say, it was a globular cluster that is in the process of being taffified/spaghettified by a close encounter with something else's gravitational field. Not sure what that thing was, maybe just the Milky Way itself?

      1. ThatOne Silver badge

        Re: River of stars?

        Still, I'm pretty sure it was not a "river" according to the generally accepted meaning of the word...

        A grouping of lions is a pride, a grouping of fish is a shoal, a grouping of stars is a cluster. AFAIK.

        1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

          Re: River of stars?

          Isn't a grouping of stars a 'constellation'?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: River of stars?

            > Isn't a grouping of stars a 'constellation'?

            A visual grouping maybe - but in most constellations the stars are completely unrelated. Some are nearby and faint, some are a long way away and bright, and so appear similar to the naked eye.

        2. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

          Re: River of stars?

          Isn't the point here that the stars involved are linked by a gravitational well but are not a cluster, they are spread out longitudinally?

          1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

            Re: River of stars?

            A Caravan of Stars?

            Keep it quiet though - don't want Trump to hear that a Caravan of Stars is approaching from the South - he'll want to blow NASA's budget on building a barrier in space to keep them at bay.

            1. OnlyMortal

              Re: River of stars?

              I'm assuming that is what Space Force is for...

        3. Dagg

          Re: River of stars?

          >fish is a shoal

          also a school, I suspect that school is the more common usage.

  6. Chris Tierney

    Tourist route

    Likely doing a flyby to observe the chaos that is life on earth. Not too close though as we are bad news to get caught up with.

  7. Marketing Hack Silver badge

    I already know how the "river of stars" got it's constituent parts

    "Let's conga!!"

  8. Mark 85 Silver badge

    I'm waiting for the UK's Express to pop yet another headline about we're doomed by a menace from space only this time it will be of epic proportions.

  9. simonlb

    Nah, you need a coalecensce

    I'll refer you the the above from the book 'Triplanetary' from the Lensman series.

    Although very good, this is just playing at it.

  10. ibmalone Silver badge
  11. devTrail

    Dark matter/Dark energy

    Can they become a simplified model to calculate a more precise estimate of dark matter and dark energy? It shouldn't be difficult to estimate the total mass and the gravitational force required to hold the together.

    1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      Re: Dark matter/Dark energy

      There's a chance that it might help that theory - certainly it's interesting, I wonder if the stream of stars is a result of a collision with another galactic cluster some 5-6 billion years ago? A collision that might have lead to the formation of our solar system.

      I think it's fascinating that we know so much about the universe these days compared to when I was a kid and it's a safe bet that when our kids are heading into retirement, they will be saying the same things about us.

  12. Winkypop Silver badge

    ".....has circled the Milky Way four times already."

    So, about as long as this Brexit catastrophe then?

  13. M.V. Lipvig

    "To be clear, the stars aren't new discoveries: the fact they are in a cluster together is the revelation here."

    Glad they added this disclaimer. I mean, I'm pretty sure at least one Aussie has looked up at night, if for no other reason than to watch for drop bears.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      ...and the act of tilting one's head back at the correct angle to imbibe the amber nectar!

  14. Lotaresco

    All Hail Gregory Benford!

    Great Sky River, anyone?

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