Andromeda Galaxy & Milky Way Collision: Mutual Destruction?

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This video explores a future event that is hard to imagine. Billions of years from now, our Milky Way galaxy will collide with the Andromeda galaxy. Unless we have truly conquered space, and have moved out among the stars, we will not be around to see it, since by that time our sun would have engulfed the inner planets and consumed the Earth. But if some version of humanity does witness it, well what will they witness? The actual collision will unfold over billions of years. It will be spectacular, but by human standards, will proceed at a snail's pace. The light show, however, will be spectacular.

Once the collision is done, the galaxies would have coalesced into one super-galaxy, one that is already being dubbed Milkomeda.

Andromeda and Milky way collission, illustration by NASA

Simulation of how the Andromeda and Milky Way collission might
look in the night sky, 3.75 billion years from now. Andromeda is
on the left.

NASA; ESA; Z. Levay and R. van der Marel, STScI; T. Hallas; and A. MellingerCredit

Andromeda and Milky way collission, illustration by NASA

Simulation of how the Andromeda and Milky Way collission might
look in the night sky, 3.75 billion years from now. Andromeda is
on the left.

NASA; ESA; Z. Levay and R. van der Marel, STScI; T. Hallas; and A. MellingerCredit

Andromeda is Still 4 Billion Years Away

Yes, the Universe is expanding and most objects in it are moving away from one another. But the Andromeda galaxy, or M31, is speeding our way at 250,000 miles per hour (402,000 kilometers per hour). Right now, Andromeda is still 2.5 million light years away. It will take around 4 billion years to reach us. Once it does, the galaxies will collide head-on with one another, move past one another, then sling back and begin to merge. This process itself will take billions of years to conclude, resulting in a massive elliptical galaxy.

Our galaxy, Andromeda, and 52 other galaxies known as the 'local group' are bound to each other gravitationally. Most of these galaxies are dwarf galaxies, with the center of the system somewhere between us and Andromeda. The next largest galaxy, besides Andromeda, is called the Triangulum galaxy, which you can see depicted in the video at around 1:18 and in the image below. In fact, both of the largest galaxies have their own system of galaxies moving around them as satellites, much like the moon orbits the Earth. According to NASA, Triangulum may become involved in the galaxy mashup as well.

But, what of our star and all the others? Won't they crash into each other, creating massive explosions? With two galaxies cataclysmically crashing into each other, how could there be anything left?

A Black Hole Collision

Both galaxies are believed to harbor massive black holes at their galactic center. Eventually, these black holes will crash into each other. But, as hard as it is to imagine, scientist do not believe it is likely that stars will crash into each other.

Andromeda and Milky way collission path, illustration by NASA

NASA; ESA; A. Feild and R. van der Marel, STScI)Credit

Andromeda and Milky way collission path, illustration by NASA

NASA; ESA; A. Feild and R. van der Marel, STScI)Credit

Will the Stars of the Milky Way and Andromeda Collide?

When viewed as a simulation, the galaxies look like concentrated masses of stars, almost a solid mass, coming together. But, in fact, the distances between all the stars is unimaginably vast. As Douglas Adams said in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space. Stars would pass right between each other and, although stellar collisions could occur, chances of them occurring are very small.

Once the galaxies collide what is left of our solar system will most likely still be around! It will just be part of a new galaxy.

Posted on 03 Apr 2018 13:47

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