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A catastrophic galactic collision could send a solar system to fly into space

The Whittle Galaxy (M51a) and the accompanying galaxy (M51b). The image of the Hubble Space Telescope is a merger between two galaxies similar in the Milky Way mass and the Great Magellanic Cloud. Credit: NASA, ESA, S. Beckit (STScI) and Hubble Heritage Team (STScI / AURA)

A new study led by astrophysicists at Durham University, Great Britain, predicts that the Great Magellanic Cloud (LMC) could hit the Milky Way for two billion years.

The collision can occur much earlier than the predicted impact between the Milky Way and another neighboring galaxy, Andromeda, which scientists say will hit our galaxy in eight billion years.

The catastrophic coming together with the Great Magellanic Cloud can awaken the hydraulic black hole of our galaxy, which will begin to sweep the surrounding gas and increase in size up to ten times.

As it feeds, now the active black hole will throw out high-energy radiation and while these cosmic fireworks will not affect life on Earth, scientists say there is little chance that an initial collision could send our solar system to divert into space .

The findings are published today (Friday, January 4) in the journal Monthly notifications of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Galaxies like our Milky Way are surrounded by a group of smaller satellite galaxies that orbit around them, similarly as bees move around a hive.

Typically, these satellite galaxies have a peaceful life and orbit around their hosts for billions of years. However, from time to time, they sink to the center, collide and are swallowed by their host galaxy.

This vibrant picture of the NASA cosmic telescope shows the Great Magellanic Cloud, the satellite galaxy of our galaxy Milky Way. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / STScI

The Great Magellanic Cloud is the brightest satellite galaxy of the Milky Way and entered only in our neighborhood about 1.5 billion years ago. It is about 163,000 light years from the Milky Way.

Until recently, astronomers thought or would orbit the Milky Way for many billions of years or, as it moves so fast, to escape the gravitational retreat of our galaxy.

However, recent measurements show that the Great Magellanic Cloud has almost twice as dark a dark matter than previously thought. The researchers say that since there is a greater mass than expected, the Great Magellanic cloud quickly loses energy and is doomed to collide with our galaxy.

The research team, led by scientists at the Institute of Computer Cosmology at the University of Darmstadt, worked with the University of Helsinki in Finland, used the supercomputing simulation to form the galaxy of EAGLE to predict the collision.

Lead author, Dr. Marius Kouthun, postdoctoral colleague at the Institute of Computer Cosmology at Durham University, said: "While two billion years is extremely long compared to human life, it's a very short time of cosmic time limits.

"The destruction of the Great Magellanic Cloud, as evolved from the Milky Way, will cause chaos with our galaxy, awakening the black hole that lives in its center and turning our galaxy into an" active galactic nucleus "or a quasar.

"This phenomenon will generate powerful high-energy aircraft emanating from outside the black hole. Although this will not affect our solar system, there is little chance we will not escape the crash from the collision between the two galaxies that could knock us out of Milky Way and in the interstellar space ".

Simulation of the evolution of a galaxy similar to ours. The bright regions correspond to the stars. The video shows the access to the secondary smaller galaxy, the so-called. satellite galaxy, which is soon swallowed up by the central galaxy. While the smaller galaxy is destroyed, the stars are thrown out of the central region. Although the chances are small, our Sun may be one of those stars who are doomed to lonely and solitary wander through the cold and dark intergalactic space. The film shows a similar evolution to what researchers predicted for the clash between our galaxy and the Great Magellanic Cloud. Credit: Auriga Project – – conducted by researchers at the Institute of Computer Cosmology, Durham University, UK, Heidelberg Institute of Theoretical Studies, Germany, and Max Planck Institute of Astrophysics, Germany.

The collision between the Great Magellanic Cloud and the Milky Way can be spectacular, researchers say.

Co-author Professor Carlos Frank, director of the Institute of Computer Cosmology, Durham University, said: "Wonderful, as it is, our Universe is constantly evolving, often through violent events like the upcoming collision with the Great Magellanic Cloud.

"Without any disasters, as a major disturbance of the solar system, our descendants, if any, are in the cure: a spectacular display of cosmic fireworks as a newly awakened supermassive black hole in the center of our galaxy reacts by broadcasting aircraft of extremely light energy radiation" .

According to researchers, the merging of the two galaxies may be delayed in cosmic conditions.

Dr Alice Dyson of the Institute of Computer Cosmology at Durham University said: "We think that until now our galaxy has only a few mergers with very low massive galaxies.

For example, our closest neighbor, the Andromeda galaxy, devoured galaxies weighing about 30 times more than those consumed by the Milky Way.

"Therefore, the clash with the Great Magellanic Cloud has long overdue and it is necessary for our galaxy to be typical."

Explore further:
The magellanic clouds may be a trio

More information:
Marius Couten and others, The consequences of the Great Conflict between our galaxy and the great Magellanic cloud, Monthly notifications of the Royal Astronomical Society (2018). DOI: 10.1093 / mnras / sty3084

Reference in the newspaper:
Monthly notifications of the Royal Astronomical Society

Provided by:
University of Durham

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