Our Milky Way is on a crash course with the (relatively) nearby Andromeda galaxy, and the two are scheduled to smash into each other—in just 4 billion years, reports the Christian Science Monitor. Actually, the two galaxies will collide three times over the following 2 billion years, eventually forming a single gigantic, elliptical galaxy about 6 billion years from now. Scientists have known for years that Andromeda is heading toward the Milky Way, but new data from the Hubble Telescope have clarified how and when the galaxies will meet.
“After nearly a century of speculation about the future destiny of Andromeda and our Milky Way, we at last have a clear picture of how events will unfold over the coming billions of years," says an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute. About 2.5 million light years from the Milky Way, Andromeda is speeding toward us at a zippy 250,000 miles per hour. The result of the collision is not going to be some apocalyptic explosion—after all, our intensifying sun will have already extinguished all life on Earth in just 1.4 billion years, notes Geekosystem—but it will create a beautiful new sky for whatever new life forms evolve to see it. (Read more Milky Way stories.)