Cosmic collision course: nearby galaxy set to hit Milky Way

James Marshall
January 4, 2019

A team led by researchers from the UK's Durham University says the threat of another galaxy colliding with the Milky Way could happen much sooner than previously thought and might send our entire solar system hurtling off in a new direction.

Although the collision will not directly impact the Solar System, it will trigger a secondary chain of events, dislodging other stars from their around our galaxy and increasing the chance of entering new gravitational fields which could change the orbit of planets.

Two billion years may seem like a long way off, but it's actually quite short on cosmic timescales.

"This phenomenon will generate powerful jets of high energy radiation emanating from just outside the black hole". They are moving around space all the time and often collide and merge.

It has always been known that our Milky Way is on a collision course with the Andromeda galaxy, with the epic prang to take place in four to eight billion years' time.

In a study published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, scientists from the U.K.'s Durham University have said the collision could take place in two million years and that if and when this happens, it could wake up the supermassive black hole that sits at the center of the Milky Way.

The Large Magellanic Cloud is a relatively small 160,000 light years away from us, while the Small Magellanic Cloud is around 200,000 light years away.

But recent measurements suggest it has almost twice as much dark matter as we bargained on. And as it slows down, it won't be able to escape our galaxy's clutches.

"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 centre and turning our galaxy into an "active galactic nucleus" or quasar", says Cautun.

This is because recent research has discovered that the LMC contains far more dark matter than previously thought - meaning it is losing energy and dooming it to crash into our galaxy.

This discovery was made when scientist ran a computer program which predicts how objects in space will move around.

The Milky Way is surrounded by a group of smaller satellite galaxies, orbiting quietly around us.

"Barring any disasters, like a major disturbance to the solar system, our descendants, if any, are in for a treat: a spectacular display of cosmic fireworks as the newly awakened supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy reacts by emitting jets of extremely bright energetic radiation".

"We think that up to now our galaxy has had only a few mergers with very low mass galaxies", says co-author Alis Deason, a computational cosmologist at Durham University.

This illustration shows a stage in the predicted merger between our Milky Way galaxy and the neighboring Andromeda galaxy, as it will unfold over the next several billion years.

Our home galaxy is a odd neighborhood of the universe: the supermassive black hole at the center of the formation is unusually small and quiet. This visualization uses data from simulations of orbital motions of gas swirling around at about 30% of the speed of light on a circular orbit around the black hole.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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