‘Milky Way heading for collision with Andromeda galaxy’

June 4th, 2012 - 3:27 pm ICT by IANS  

Hubble Space Telescope Washington, June 4 (IANS) Our Milky Way galaxy is heading for a massive collision with the neighbouring Andromeda galaxy, but not before four billion years from now, say scientists.

The Andromeda galaxy is now 2.5 million light-years away, but it is inexorably falling toward the Milky Way under the mutual pull of gravity between the two galaxies and the invisible dark matter that surrounds them both, according to scientists.

“After nearly a century of speculation about the future destiny of Andromeda and our Milky Way, we at last have a clear picture of how events will unfold over the coming billions of years,” said Sangmo Tony Sohn of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), Baltimore, US.

The scenario is like a baseball batter watching an oncoming fastball. Although Andromeda is approaching us more than two thousand times faster, it will take four billion years before the strike, according to a STScI statement.

“Our findings are statistically consistent with a head-on collision between the Andromeda galaxy and our Milky Way galaxy,” said Roeland van der Marel of STScI.

The solution came through painstaking NASA Hubble Space Telescope measurements of the motion of Andromeda, which also is known as M31.

Computer simulations derived from Hubble’s data show that it will take an additional two billion years after the encounter for the interacting galaxies to completely merge under the tug of gravity and reshape into a single elliptical galaxy, according to researchers.

It is likely the Sun will be flung into a new region of our galaxy, but the Earth and solar system are in no danger of being destroyed, researchers add.

Although the galaxies will plough into each other, stars inside each galaxy are so far apart that they will not collide with other stars during the encounter. However, the stars will be thrown into different orbits around the new galactic centre, say researchers.

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