Our Milky Way Is Headed Toward a Violent 'Merger'

But we've got about 2 billion years to prepare
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 4, 2019 10:39 AM CST
Smaller Galaxy on Track to Smash Into Milky Way
The Large Magellanic Cloud galaxy in infrared light as seen by the Herschel Space Observatory and NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope.   (Wikimedia/NASA)

It'll be a fireworks show for the ages, but you won't be around to see it. Consider that a blessing in disguise: The display expected by astrophysicists at Durham University in the UK will only come as a nearby galaxy smashes into our own in about 2 billion years. Computer simulations show that a smaller satellite galaxy known as the Large Magellanic Cloud is currently orbiting the Milky Way but will eventually change course and slam into its larger counterpart, reports the Guardian via a new study. "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. As New Atlas explains, this is actually standard stuff in the cosmic abyss.

Galaxies frequently collide with each other, and our own Milky Way is somewhat unusual in that it's had only a few such "mergers," as study co-author Alis Deason puts it. The collision with LMC, then, "is long overdue and it is needed to make our galaxy typical." Also, it will be a relatively minor affair compared with a much larger event on the horizon, perhaps in 4 billion years: a collision with the Andromeda galaxy. “The LMC is big but it won’t completely destroy our galaxy,” says Frenk. "The collision with Andromeda really will be armageddon. That really will be the end of the Milky Way as we know it.” One possible silver lining: The LMC collision might move us a bit and actually delay the Andromeda crash. (More astronomy stories.)

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