Smaller Galaxy on Track to Smash Into Milky Way

James Marshall
January 6, 2019

Fortunately for us, and probably for everything and everyone we'll ever know, this collision between the Milky Way and the smaller galaxy known as the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) probably won't happen for 2 billion years. New data suggests we'll hit another galaxy well before that, though, and the super-smash could send our Solar System headfirst on a path out of the Milky Way.

A nearby galaxy is hurtling towards the Milky Way on a collision course that could fling our Solar System into interstellar space.

The findings are published today in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

They orbit the Milky Way once every 1,500 million years and each other once every 900 million years. But don't worry, it's not going to happen for two billion years'!

These galaxies can lead separate lives for many billions of years, but on occasion, they can find themselves sinking into the centre of their host galaxy, until at last they collide and are swallowed up completely. Computer simulations show that a smaller satellite galaxy known as the Large Magellanic Cloud is now orbiting the Milky Way but will eventually change course and slam into its larger counterpart, reports the Guardian via a new study.

The LMC is a satellite of the Milky Way that lies about 163,000 light-years from our home spiral. But that's still much sooner than the previously predicted impact with our neighboring Andromeda galaxy set to happen in 8 billion years.

But recent measurements suggest it has almost twice as much dark matter as we bargained on. Researchers in Durham, England, and Helsinki, Finland, used the Evolution and Assembly of GaLaxies and their Environments (EAGLE) simulator, which can recreate the movements of 10,000 galaxies at a time, to show a cosmic crash with the LMC is coming much sooner than expected.

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

"The whole of the Milky Way will be shaken", and the supermassive black hole at its center "will gorge on this sudden unexpected abundance of fuel and it will go berserk", says researcher Carlos Frenk.

"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".

Our galaxy is long overdue for such a collision.

"We think that up to now our galaxy has had only a few mergers with very low mass galaxies", said Alis Deason, of Durham University's Institute for Computational Cosmology. For example, our nearest neighbor, the Andromeda galaxy, devoured galaxies weighing almost 30 times more than those consumed by the Milky Way.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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