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Cosmic cloud could cause Armageddon.

A bump with a tiny gas cloud could mean the end of the world.

Although the cloudy region is about 50,000 years away, small knots of gas scientists call "local fluff" could be here much sooner.

If the Solar System hits even a small cloud, the bubble surrounding it - which protects life on our planet - could burst.

The Earth would be raked by deadly cosmic radiation and could suffer severe global warming, a great flood or an ice age.

The latest prophecy comes in the wake of fears of the end of the world arriving in the form of a giant comet or asteroid.

Gary Zank, of the Bartol Research Institute at the University of Delaware, said: "We're surrounded by hot gas.

"As our sun moves through extremely "empty" or low-density interstellar space, the solar wind produces a protective bubble - the helio- sphere around our Solar System - which allows life to flourish on Earth.

"We could bump into a small cloud at any time, and we probably won't see it coming.

"Without the heliosphere, neutral hydrogen would interact with our atmosphere, possibly producing catastrophic climate changes, while our exposure to deadly cosmic radiation in the form of very high- energy cosmic rays would increase.

"The protective solar wind would be extinguished, and cosmic radiation might lead to gene mutations.

"Hydrogen would bombard the Earth, producing increased cloud cover, leading perhaps to global warming, or extreme amounts of precipitation and ice ages."

Zank said a particularly troublesome cloud zone located in a star-forming region near the Aquila Rift - about 815 light years away - was "clearly headed our way".
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Copyright 1998 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Frew, Callum
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:May 29, 1998
Words:268
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