Milky Way Galaxy Doomed to Head-On Crash with Andromeda

Four billion years from now, the Milky Way galaxy as we know it will cease to exist.

Our Milky Way is bound for a head-on collision with the similar-sized Andromeda galaxy, researchers announced today (May 31). Over time, the huge galactic smashup will create an entirely new hybrid galaxy, one likely bearing an elliptical shape rather than the Milky Way's trademark spiral-armed disk.

"We do know of other galaxies in the local universe around us that are in the process of colliding and merging," Roeland van der Marel, of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, told reporters today. "However, what makes the future merger of the Andromeda galaxy and the Milky Way so special is that it will happen to us."

Astronomers have long known that the Milky Way and Andromeda, which is also known as M31, are barrelling toward one another at a speed of about 250,000 mph (400,000 kph). They have also long suspected that the two galaxies may slam into each other billions of years down the road. [Milky Way Slams Into Andromeda (Artist Images)]

However, such discussions of the future galactic crash have always remained somewhat speculative, because no one had managed to measure Andromeda's sideways motion —  a key component of that galaxy's path through space.

But that's no longer the case.

Van der Marel and his colleagues used NASA's Hubble space telescope to repeatedly observe select regions of Andromeda over a seven-year period. They were able to measure the galaxy's sideways (or tangential) motion, and they found that Andromeda and the Milky Way are indeed bound for a direct hit.

"The Andromeda galaxy is heading straight in our direction," van der Marel said. "The galaxies will collide, and they will merge together to form one new galaxy." He and his colleagues also created a video simulation of the Milky Way crash into Andromeda.

That merger, van der Marel added, begins in 4 billion years and will be complete by about 6 billion years from now.

A future cosmic crash

Such a dramatic event has never occurred in the long history of our Milky Way, which likely began taking shape about 13.5 billion years ago.

"The Milky Way has had, probably, quite a lot of small, minor mergers," said Rosemary Wyse of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, who was not affiliated with the new study. "But this major merger will be unprecedented."

The merger poses no real danger of destroying Earth or our solar system, researchers said. The stretches of empty space separating the stars in the two galaxies will remain vast, making any collisions or serious perturbations unlikely.

However, our solar system will likely get booted out to a different position in the new galaxy, which some astronomers have dubbed the "Milkomeda galaxy." Simulations show that we'll probably occupy a spot much farther from the galactic core than we do today, researchers said.

A new night sky

And the collision will change our night sky dramatically. If any humans are still around 3.75 billion years from now, they'll see Andromeda fill their field of view as it sidles up next to our own Milky Way. For the next few billion years after that, stargazers will be spellbound by the merger, which will trigger intense bouts of star formation.

Finally, by about 7 billion years from now, the bright core of the elliptical Milkomeda galaxy will dominate the night sky, researchers said. (The odds of viewing this sight, at least from Earth, are pretty slim, since the sun is predicted to bloat into a huge red giant 5 or 6 billion years from now.)

In its 22-year history, Hubble has revolutionized the way humanity views the cosmos. The new finding is another step in that process, researchers said.

"What's really exciting about the current measurements is, it's not about historical astronomy; it's not about looking back in time, understanding the expansion of the universe," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate and a former astronaut who flew on three space shuttle missions that repaired Hubble .

"It's looking forward in time, which is another very human story," Grunsfeld added. "We like to know about our past — where did we come from? We very much like to know where we're going."

You can follow SPACE.com senior writer Mike Wall on Twitter: @michaeldwall. Follow SPACE.com for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

Copyright 2012 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Loading...

Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • Developers prepare for new rules and regulations
    Developers prepare for new rules and regulations

    Known as the "Subdivision and Condominium Buyers' Protective Decree," Presidential Decree No. 957 issued two sets of revised implementing rules and regulations (IRRs) earlier in 2015. A bill initiated by former President Ferdinand Marcos in 1976, the decree and its most recent amendments were designed to "protect buyers from fraudulent and unscrupulous subdivision and condominium sellers, operators and developers," according to the explanatory note that accompanied the bill in its senate …

  • Tsunami warning after Papua New Guinea hit by 7.5 quake
    Tsunami warning after Papua New Guinea hit by 7.5 quake

    A 7.5-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Papua New Guinea on Monday, US seismologists said, with "hazardous" tsunami waves possible in areas near the epicentre although no major damage was immediately reported. The quake hit at a depth of 33 kilometres (20 miles), some 55 kilometres from the nearest city of Kokopo on New Britain island and 787 kilometres from the capital Port Moresby, the United States Geological Survey said. "Based on all available data... hazardous tsunami waves …

  • ‘Get SAF 44 killers before BBL passage’
    ‘Get SAF 44 killers before BBL passage’

    Lawmakers are demanding the arrest of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters involved in the killing of 44 policemen in Mamasapano before the approval of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) in Congress. Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chairman of the 75-member ad hoc committee in the House of Representatives deliberating on the BBL, prodded the Department of Justice (DOJ) to speed up its investigation and file charges against the MILF guerrillas as the Aquino administration …

  • Pinoys dance for Earth Hour
    Pinoys dance for Earth Hour

    The Philippines once again displayed its support Saturday night for the worldwide observance of Earth Hour by hosting a dance party after turning the lights off from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. to save energy and make a statement on various environmental issues. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said widespread participation proved anew that no individual action on climate change is too small and that no collective vision is too big with celebrations in over 7,000 hubs in 170 countries. The WWF said …

  • Phl offers Sabah to win Malaysia’s support for UN case vs China
    Phl offers Sabah to win Malaysia’s support for UN case vs China

    The Philippines has offered to downgrade its claim on Sabah in exchange for Malaysia’s support for its case against China before the United Nations. The quid pro quo was contained in a note verbale the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) handed to a representative of the Malaysian embassy last week, a week after the visit of Malaysian Defense Minister Dato  Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein. The note verbale, a copy of which was obtained by VERA Files, referred to the May 6, 2009 joint submission …

  • Maysak to enter Phl Wednesday
    Maysak to enter Phl Wednesday

    A typhoon with international name Maysak is expected to enter the Philippine area of responsibility (PAR) on Wednesday and bring rains over Northern Luzon by weekend, the state weather bureau said yesterday. Aldczar Aurelio, weather forecaster of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), said the typhoon was 2,810 kilometers east of Mindanao as of 10 a.m. yesterday. “This typhoon is still too far to affect any part of the country,” the weather …

  • Nonviolent disciplining of kids pushed

    Child rights advocates called on senators to pass and strongly endorse a law that will institutionalize positive and nonviolent methods of disciplining children.The Child Rights Network (CRN), Plan International Philippines (PIP), Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLPCD), and Lihok Pilipinas Foundation led the call for the enactment of the Positive Discipline Bill.Several Quezon City Council members led by Majority Floor Leader Jesus Manuel Suntay, Victor Ferrer …

  • Method to their madness

    [caption id="attachment_256768" align="alignright" width="212"] Illustration by Rod Cañalita[/caption] EMMANUEL PORTUGAL Country Manager for the Philippines, VMware I look after the garden. I’d like to think that I have a green thumb—no plants have died so far! The ones I like now that I planted a few months ago is the Blue Iris. Like the town in the movie, my Blue Iris shows up in the morning and only appears for one day. …

POLL

Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Loading...
Poll Choice Options