4 January 2019
A nearby galaxy is headed on a collision course with the Milky Way, scientists have warned, which could cause Earth’s solar system to be shunted out of its galaxy into the depths of space.
This vibrant image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy to our own Milky Way galaxy.
UK astrophysicists have led the STFC-funded research, which has been published today, that predicts that one of the smaller satellite galaxies orbiting the Milky Way is going to collide with our galaxy in two billion years’ time.
This collision is much sooner than the predicted impact between the Milky Way and another neighbouring galaxy, Andromeda, which scientists say will hit our galaxy in eight billion years.
The Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) is the brightest satellite galaxy of the Milky Way and until recently astronomers thought that it would either orbit the Milky Way for many billions of years, or, since it moves so fast, escape from our galaxy’s gravitational pull.
However, recent measurements indicate that the LMC has nearly twice as much dark matter than previously thought and is rapidly losing energy, so is doomed to collide with our galaxy.
This could wake up our galaxy’s dormant black hole, which would begin devouring surrounding gas and expanding in size while throwing out high-energy radiation.
“While this will not affect our solar system,” said the lead author, Dr Marius Cautun from Durham University, “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 space.”
Read more about this paper on the Durham University website.
Last updated: 15 January 2019