Milky Way Could Crash Into A Nearby Galaxy Within Two Billion Years

Posted: Jan 6 2019, 7:14am CST | by , in Latest Science News


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Milky Way Could Crash into a Nearby Galaxy within Two Billion Years
Credit: NASA; ESA

There is a small chance that the catastrophic collision could send our Solar System hurtling into space.

For years, researchers have believed that Milky Way is on a collision course with a large neighboring galaxy Andromeda. The collision is predicted to happen at some point during the next eight billion years and will destroy the spiral structure of both galaxies. But now a team of astrophysicists from UK see another galaxy collision happening before that. In the next two billion years, our galaxy will smash into the Large Magellanic Cloud, the brightest satellite galaxy of the Milky Way. Large Magellanic Cloud resides a mere 160,000 light years away. For comparison, Andromeda is 2.5 million light years away.

The collision could have catastrophic consequences. It could wake up our galaxy's dormant black hole, which would begin consuming surrounding gas and considerably increase in size. When the black hole swallows the nearby material at an alarming rate, it will release high-energy radiation and affect life on Earth. The massive galactic collision could even send our Solar System hurtling into space.

"While two billion years is an extremely long time compared to a human lifetime, it is a very short time on cosmic timescales. The destruction of the Large Magellanic Cloud, as it is devoured by the Milky Way, will wreak havoc with our galaxy, waking up the black hole that lives at its center and turning our galaxy into an 'active galactic nucleus' or quasar,” said lead author Dr. Marius Cautun from Durham University.

"This phenomenon will generate powerful jets of high energy radiation emanating from just outside the black hole. While this will not affect our Solar System, there is a small chance that we might not escape unscathed from the collision between the two galaxies which could knock us out of the Milky Way and into interstellar space."

Galaxies like our own Milky Way are surrounded by smaller satellite galaxies, which are bound together by gravity. Sometimes galaxies drift too close to one another and can lead to mergers. When a collision takes place, giant galaxies remain mostly intact and retain their shape. But the smaller satellite galaxies are torn apart and become part of the larger galaxy.

In the case of Large Magellanic Cloud, the satellite galaxy entered our neighborhood about 1.5 billion years ago. Until recently, astronomers thought that it would either orbit the Milky Way for many billions of years or escape from our galaxy's gravitational pull due to its extremely fast movement.

However, recent measurements indicate that the Large Magellanic Cloud has a mass larger than expected. It also has nearly twice as much dark matter than previously thought. Based on supercomputer simulation, researchers say that the Large Magellanic Cloud is rapidly losing energy and is doomed to collide with our galaxy.

Co-author Professor Carlos Frenk said."Beautiful as it is, our Universe is constantly evolving, often through violent events like the forthcoming collision with the Large Magellanic Cloud.”

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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