A catastrophic collision hurtling towards the Milky Way galaxy may reach us sooner than astronomers first thought, NBC Philly is reporting. Scientists have predicted that the Andromeda galaxy will run into the Milky Way galaxy in 8 billion years — but that might not even matter now, as another collision will happen sooner. Scientists see the Large Magellanic Cloud colliding with our galaxy in around 2 billion years. These new findings were published in a study for this month’s Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. So, what does this collision mean? Well, it basically means our solar system will be sent “hurtling through space” from the impact.
The Large Magellanic Cloud is a satellite galaxy, which is a smaller type of galaxy that can usually remain undisturbed — unless it comes into contact with a bigger galaxy, like the Milky Way. The bigger galaxy can usually “devour” the satellite galaxy. But if the Milky Way does that with the Large Magellanic Cloud, this time around it won’t come without consequences. The Large Magellanic Cloud came towards the Milky Way around 1.5 billion years ago — which actually means it’s kind of new to the Milky Way.
The Large Magellanic Cloud is the brightest satellite near our galaxy and it’s currently 163,000 light-years away. While it was first assumed that the satellite galaxy would remain undisturbed or eventually move on, it has now been discovered that it has a larger mass than first thought. The Large Magellanic Cloud is now losing energy — and will eventually collide with our galaxy.
“The destruction of the Large Magellanic Cloud, as it is devoured by the Milky Way, will wreak havoc with our galaxy, waking up the black hole that lives at its center and turning our galaxy into an ‘active galactic nucleus’ or quasar,” Marius Cautun, study author and postdoctoral fellow at Durham University’s Institute for Computational Cosmology, said in a statement.
“This phenomenon will generate powerful jets of high energy radiation emanating from just outside the black hole. While this will not affect our Solar System, 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 interstellar space.”
While 2 billion years is an eternity for us, in terms of the universe it’s not that long at all. The universe is said to be 13.8-billion-years-old, with the Milky Way being 13.5-billion-years-old. While a catastrophe is expected, scientists do say there is an alternative. In fact, our descendants might get a pretty cool show.
“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,” Carlos Frenk, study co-author and director for the Durham University’s Institute for Computational Cosmology, said in a statement.