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Back in 2007, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, a deep mapping survey of galaxies using a 98-inch telescope based in New Mexico, photographed a strange blue-green cloud next to the galaxy IC 2497 located in the constellation of Leo Minor. It was later flagged by Hanny Van Arkel, a Dutch schoolteacher participating in the online Galaxy Zoo project.
You’ll recall the Galaxy Zoo invites the public to examine and classify photos of galaxies taken by Sloan Survey and Hubble Space Telescope. Hanny noticed the strange cloud and alerted the project coordinators to it. It was soon nicknamed Hanny’s ‘Voorwerp’ (Dutch for ‘object’) and astronomers scheduled additional observations of the odd bit of fluff with the Swift satellite, the Hubble and others.
Based on new photos and observations shared today by astronomer Bill Keel of the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and leader of the Hubble study, astronomers say the weird cloud is a long streamer of gas pulled out of IC 2497 by the gravity of a passing galaxy.